Talking with the Pine in Lill-Jansskogen

Dear pine tree, hello. I wonder how I should approach you and I realize it's strange to speak English with you here in Stockholm where the natural language would be Swedish, I suppose. Or then some kind of pine language that I don't master. You're growing on a hill in Norra Djurgården park or what is sometimes called Lill-Jansskogen. Little Jan’s wood.

And right now, there is some airplane slowly passing away in the distance. It's Saturday, so there are lots of people and dogs in the park, but not right here. I came to you once before or came to this wood and noticed you. But that was a few days ago and there was plenty of snow. A lot of that is gone now. I was looking for a pine tree to befriend, a pine tree to visit repeatedly. And ideally a pine tree I could sit in or on. Obviously, you're not that kind of pine. You're tall and big and beautiful, and that's why I somehow noticed you and was almost mesmerized by you. Also, some of your branches are really hanging low, I could almost touch some of your needles in front of me.

Well, it is not the same as having physical contact by leaning on you or sitting on you or climbing up on your branches. But maybe this is better for you actually, that I keep some distance. These are strange days, it is the end of February, but it feels like March. But especially strange days because there is a war in Europe. Russia has invaded Ukraine or tried to invade Ukraine. And that is somehow shocking news to everybody. I remember a brilliant woman scholar and an artist Daria who wrote a text for an online journal we edited about working with the vegetal and she was describing, among other things, the attachment that people could feel to their gardens and how they suffered when they had to leave them. And that's of course something that is different for you and for us humans. Because you cannot leave yourself. Your offspring can leave and move. But you have to stay here. You have stayed here for a long time; you're quite tall and your trunk is thick. But I don't have an idea of whether you're even maybe 100 years old. You could be, that's about the average age for a pine tree, in these areas, they say, provided they can live in peace. Because of course most pine trees are growing in plantations nowadays and cut down much earlier. Because you live here in this nature park or well, some sort of royal hunting ground originally, I suppose, nowadays, an area for recreation, you're quite safe, I guess. But of course, you will also suffer from the climate change. Because warmer weather brings more insects to bother you. And the droughts might be dangerous for you. Although you're quite hardy when it comes to dry periods. And then the storms; the soil here on the hill cannot be that strong or thick. But you look very, very strong and balanced, where you grow. I'm looking forward to coming back to you for advice and support. Now I don't have any specific question to you. Except maybe exactly this one: if you are willing to engage in conversation with me, albeit somewhat one sided of course. But I like to think that by staying with you, and next to you, I could somehow absorb some of your thinking or wisdom. Or that, even that, you could even share some of your ideas and your wisdom with me somehow, deliberately. I don't necessarily mean that in the sense of some fairies or little people living in your crown or some spirit figures, but more like the trans-corporal exchanges that take place. Because if we can exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide and radiation, radioactive waves or some type of other chemical and well many kinds of exchanges, which are somehow on the border of material and immaterial, then why not thoughts as well. Anyway, it doesn't bother me that I don't understand how that could take place. But I somehow wish that I could learn to be more sensitive and to train myself to be receptive to the thinking that you emanate in your way. Thank you anyway, for letting me address you like this. I wish you all the best for the spring, for the coming spring, and I hope to come back to you by the end of March. So, take care.

Hello Pine. This is the talking human again. You probably can't remember, but I was here almost one month ago. The world looked different then, at least this world with some snow still. You're looking fine, I hope you'll feel fine too. I promised that I would return to you and try to have a conversation with you as part of my project pondering with pines. Pondering, I don't really know what ponder means. Something like contemplating or meditating or analysing or scrutinizing or thinking. And I would like to try to think with you. Yes, I would like to learn to listen to you and with you. But, also to think; or how to think differently than the way that we humans are taught to think. I love the idea of thinking as something that’s happening, like philosopher Michel Marder has suggested that it thinks. There is an impersonal it thinks. Or maybe you could say like, it is thinking, like it is raining. And it doesn't then mean only the vegetal individual like you the pine tree, but somehow the impersonal connected thinking that takes place between things. In specific places, and at specific times may be, in specific circumstances, but not within individuals, but between them or as some sort of shared basis maybe. I don't know philosophically, really deeply what that would mean, but emotionally and intuitively I think the idea that it thinks is great. Now, the wind wants to think, too. Well, saying that the wind wants to think is playing with personification in a way. Of course, you could accuse me if you would like to, for somehow anthropomorphizing you by speaking to you like this. So, trying to be addressing you like another Anthropos, another human being. But no, I want to try to address you as a pine, although I cannot speak your pine language. Also, despite all the criticism against personification or calling it even animistic, there are many thinkers and poets who really suggest that we should endorse this idea of subjectifying other beings besides the humans. And that doesn't automatically mean that we make them human-like, but if you don't grant any subjectivity to other beings, then it's much harder to respect them or understand them as being alive. This being alive is of course, a difficult question nowadays with artificial intelligence and all kinds of intermediate forms between life and non-life like viruses. But I've learned from other plants, not from you, to know that you are very much alive, although you look immobile. There is a scholar called Matthew Hall, who wrote and here comes the wind again. So, Matthew Hall he wrote about… he wrote about plants as persons, and how important it would be that we would consider plants as persons. But Michael Marder, who I mentioned to you in the beginning, is sceptical about that, and things on the contrary, that human beings should think of themselves less as persons and more as vegetal in their own manner, too. So, rather than approaching you, as a pine tree person, I should recognize that there is vegetal basis in my existence as well. And sure, there is. But, of course, personhood can be understood in a less concrete manner. And for me, it of course is linked to individualism, which is a problematic idea, sure. But if we think of being an individual, not in the literal sense of not being divisible, because unlike a human being, you sure you are divisible. I could take a branch of yours and it might grow into a new pine tree. I don't know if it works with pine so well, because your trunk is so wooden, or with trees anyway. But, like grafting and, and many types of ‘sticklings’ [cuttings] are taken, if that's what they're called. Plants surely are divisible. Some plants can be eaten up to 70% and still grow happily. A human being cannot grow a new arm if it's cut off, although we are not indivisible in a psychological sense. But the individuality or personhood might more relate to actually the place and time that we started with, the idea that you have grown into this specific being by living right here, in these years before now. And I keep talking and talking, I'm the talking human being. I'm not listening to you at all. Forgive me for being so brutally self-obsessed. I have come to you exactly to try to think with you. But when I try to listen to you, I hear only screaming children somewhere in the woods and the distant traffic. And I see the sun shining behind your trunk beautifully. I guess it makes you as happy as it makes me happy now after the winter. So, let's speak more about that another time. Thank you for listening to me today. And hope to see you soon again. Take care. 

Hello pine, here is the talking human again. It's been quite a while since I was here. But you look fine, almost the same or the same to my eyes. There is quite a lot of wind. Let's hope it doesn't destroy this recording completely. I have no good news to you. The war is still going on in Ukraine. And now the main topic of discussion in Finland and in Sweden is how to proceed, whether to become a member of NATO or not, or not even whether or not but when, and how, at least when it comes to Finland. I'm of course of the generation who is not too happy with these alliances supporting nuclear weapons, but these days, it seems there is no other alternative. At least when it comes to Finland, we cannot stay alone with the neighbour going more and more lunatic day by day. Or let's put it not lunatic but just impossible to negotiate with because not following any of the rules decided upon together and so on. But no, I didn't come to you to talk about politics, sorry for that. Maybe I should tell you about the text I'm writing at the moment or rewriting, it's an old text, about becoming a tree with a tree. It's not about talking to trees or writing to trees, but practicing the two-legged tree pose, a yoga asana next to trees that I have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic actually. And I've tried to write about that, the different trees I've met and different variations of the practice that I've explored. But especially the tension between an inward awareness and an outward awareness, which becomes very tangible when you're doing a balancing exercise. Now, when I'm talking to you, there is no doubt that I'm focusing on you, my attention is on you, even though I'm talking. But if I would practice the two-legged tree pose next to you, which I could because there is space next to your trunk where I could easily try to balance, then a lot of my attention would go to the muscles of my own body and trying to maintain equilibrium. And I would also have to focus my eyes on a point rather than experiencing the environment more broadly. So there is tension between these two kinds of awareness. Well, so that's what I've been trying to rewrite and make more understandable. It's difficult because I'm not familiar with the discussions in somatic practices in general, so I don't have so much context to relate it to. Because my own context is that of performance art and video art and critical plants studies maybe. The other thing that might interest you is a performance or an evening of performances and videos, or a performance with videos, which I call Practicing with Pines that will take place at the end of April in Myymälä 2 Gallery in Helsinki. It's a small space with two rooms and I'm trying to show a few videos where I practice with pines, and then practice next to the videos. Of course, practicing with the image of a pine tree is very, very different than practicing with a real pine tree outdoors. But that is about what I can do in those circumstances. What else could I tell you? Well, it's Good Friday today, Easter Friday, traditionally the day when everybody is sitting at home and commemorating the suffering of Christ and so on, or depending on your culture, maybe taking part in parades or whatever. But in our Nordic Lutheran tradition, it's a day of stillness. And so in some sense, it's very appropriate to spend at least a part of the day here with you. The only problem is that it's really chilly. The wind is cold. The sun makes it look like it's spring. And there are small green leaves coming up on the ground everywhere. Everything is waking up. But it's still cold. So I think I will leave you, now. And thank you for being there. And thank you for allowing me to talk with you or to you, next to you and hope to see you again soon. So take care.

Hello, pine, here's the talking human again. About one month has passed, so maybe you don't remember me? Or why would you remember me, but nice to see you anyway. Now everything around you is so green and lush, that you look a little bit gray, almost, or tired a little bit. But when I look at your branches, I can see there are new needles coming up, new sprouts. I thought about it when I showed a video clip to some people, where I tried to address a pine tree, another pine tree, and ask for advice. And then one of the participants commented and brought in the idea of Umwelt or the idea presented by Jakob von Uexkull already in the 30s, 1930s or something like that, that all creatures have their own environments, so to speak, because they have their life worlds depending on their way of living and their sensorium, what is important for them, what they can sense, how they live. And I remember the much quoted example, I think, which is famous via Agamben, or somebody, about the tick that waits, which is a blind tick, that waits for all its life to experience the warmth of a mammal coming by and then throws itself into the air to land on that mammal and suck blood and then reproduce or however it is, but like there is a very specific way of experiencing and living our life for all creatures. And that we therefore never can understand the life worlds of other creatures. And that has, of course, also been criticised. Sometimes it feels even among humans that it's very difficult to understand how somebody else experiences things, or to explain to somebody else how oneself experiences even though we have approximately the same sensorium or  approximately same life world and digestive processes and somewhat similar upbringing and depending on of course, circumstances. But like describing this specific kind of pain, how can you do that? There are no exact words for it. Or other experiences. So if it's difficult among humans, how much more difficult would it then be with other types of animals or, like vegetal creatures like trees, like you? But, nevertheless, I still, even though it feels almost impossible, I nevertheless somehow try to trust, that there are similarities, because we have a common ancestor in the first cellular creatures that started to combine carbon molecules in a way that and to utilise oxygen. I'm not good at chemistry or biochemistry, but still there is a common ancestry and still a lot of commonalities like breathing, like breathing. But breathing is actually one of the key examples of Emanuele Coccia, whose critique of Uexkull's Umwelt theories, I think, is quite convincing. Because he insists that although we might have separate life worlds, we are influencing each other's life worlds all the time, we are feeding of each other's exhalations or even excrements, if you wish. And we are constantly immersed in each other. And for him, all life is a mixture. So all the life worlds are not separate bubbles that wouldn't somehow mix. On the contrary, they're all the time entwined and mixed and influencing each other. And of course, that makes sense on on a very basic level, if we think of breathing because as they say, I breathe out some carbon dioxide that you can then inhale. And then you exhale oxygen, and I can inhale that and so on. Well, it's not that simple. But, all the chemicals, all the poisons, all the pollution, but also all the nutrients that float around both of us here now, and everybody else around. We are exchanging them all the time. And they're penetrating us and we are penetrating them. If you want to use the word penetrate, but I think the idea that we are immersed in each other is quite obvious if we think of breathing. And now when everything is wet, and I can see the small raindrops on your needles and feel the humidity on the rock that I'm sitting on, seeping in through my cloths to my bottom it's somehow so very clear that there are no watertight bubbles in this world but we are all interlinked. That doesn't help in terms of exchanging ideas necessarily, or communicating feelings or making each other understandable for each other to explain what is important for each of us so. Because I don't know really what is important for you, I cannot do anything to please you at the moment. As a biologist, I might know a little bit more but as biologists or even medical doctors don't necessarily know what I would like or not like, probably biologists wouldn't know exactly what you want and not want either. The season of the mosquitoes is soon with us. Amazing to think that summer is here, although it's chilly. Now when I look at you, it really feels like you're a winter creature. Not that you are not beautiful in summer, too, but in the summer so many others are competing for attention. I hope you enjoy the summer and have the possibility to grow and, well, gather a lot of energy for the coming winter although you can keep on producing nourishment all through the winter but I guess it's nicer for you too, when it's a little bit warmer. So nice to see you again and I hope I will be back in one month at the latest. So take care. And thank you.