With Pines on Öskjuhlid hill in Reykjavik


These pines are probably contorta pines (Pinus contorta), one of the most widely planted timber trees in Iceland.

Hello pine or dear contorta pine, if you are a contorta pine. Esteemed pine tree, hello. We have not met before, but I can see from the ground around you that you have met many many other humans, probably, here on or below Oskjuhlid Hill, excuse me the pronunciation. A wooded mountain in Reykjavik, Iceland, and we are on the southern slope next to, very near the Reykjavik University, so there might have been visitors and students talking to you before. I am a foreigner, a tourist from Finland. And I came here for a conference, which is now over. But already one of the first nights when I took a walk and marvelled at the forest here, or wood, I noticed you. My memory of Reykjavik was of a treeless city with only a few small whitebeams or rowans or something like that in some of the yards in the old city. And I thought how is it possible that there are so many trees all over the place and also this wood. You're not a youngster. Well, I didn't come here on my first visit. And I didn't remember the year of my first visit, so I had to look it up. And it was in 1992. So that's a long time ago. That's 30 years ago. So if you were around by then you were much much younger and smaller. I don't know how quickly you contorta pines grow, if you are a contorta pine, but that's what I somehow found out when I tried to look for explanations. How come you look so different from the pine trees I'm accustomed to at home. This is quite exciting site that you're living in. Not exciting because of the University or because of the sports path nearby. But maybe because of the history of the legacy from the Second World War when the small airport was constructed, and there was.. big fuel reservoirs on this hill, a lot of military constructions. The sound of the airplanes can be well heard right now. I wonder do they bother you or are you so accustomed to them that they sort of, that they feel like home for you? Yesterday on the last day of the conference, I was talking about my work with some pine trees in Helsinki and in Stockholm and explaining how I visit them regularly, because I consider them my teachers. So I learn, I practice some physical exercises like the tree pose from Tai Chi Chuan or the two legged tree pose in yoga. But I practice together with the pines. But I also think that I'm practicing commitment and patience and perseverance. And, of course, the two basic, or some of the basic things that Craig Holdrege suggests that we should learn from plants, that is a rootedness. - This is a very strong noise. - But anyway, to practice rootedness or a sense of context, and to practice living thinking, processual thinking, thinking that develops. Well, to repeat that, because of the noise. So according Craig Holdrege some of the things that we really can learn from plants and trees, then of course, because you're plants in some sense, and also pine trees, is this relationship to place, to site, to environment, to embody the circumstances in your very body. And the idea of process, of development, of growth and decay, of changing over time. And I wonder, when I think of this, think of you as embodying the characteristics of the place in your very specific sculptural forms. And I wonder, what made you, what in this very place made you choose to grow like this? With your different branches or so low to the ground at first, was it the wind? And on the other hand, if I think of your choices or decisions in growing as sort of a processual thinking, what were they influenced by? Were there some accidents or were people sitting on you so much that you needed to bend? - There is really an amount of traffic now. Maybe I have to come to you later. Why would so many airplanes leave from the domestic airport of Reykjavik on Midsummer morning? It is Saturday but it is actually Midsummer, at least at home in Finland, the 25th of June. The 24th of June is often the Midsummer Eve, although they have transferred it to the weekend nowadays. There was an actress, a French actress commenting on my presentation yesterday, later, afterwards, and referring to Vinciane Despret, if I pronounce her name correctly, who has written about animals, that if they don't reply it is because we're asking the wrong questions. I haven't read her book but she's suggested that may be I'm not asking the right questions from you. In some sense, I have millions of questions because I'm a visitor and you live here. But on the other hand, I realise there is no way I could expect you to reply to that. It's actually quite brutal of me to disturb you here. But I somehow feel that you are accustomed to people sitting here and taking selfies or portraits of each other, photographs of each other and maybe some of them are talking to you as well. It's incredible that you can bear this noise because I feel I have to go. I don't want to sit in this horrible noise of the machines that are contributing to destroying the atmosphere for you and me and everybody else. That said, I came here by an airplane, too, so I cannot complain. I'm just feeling sad. And I thank you for today and I will come back later and hope to find a moment with more peace and calm. Thank you. 


Hello pine. Good morning or good day. I don't know how to call you so I apologise if you feel that I'm rude when I say hello pine or hello contorta pine, if you are a contorta pine. But that's what I think the pine trees here are, because they're decidedly different from the so called Scots pines at home in Finland. I'm visitor here and I wanted to come to you and ask you about the way of living here today. We are very near Reykjavik domestic airport and there is something going on now. Because there is a constant noise. I guess you're used to it, but it makes our conversation difficult, for me, at least. You're growing next to the path on the southern slope or the southern edge of the Öskjuhlid  hill, if I pronounce it anywhere near, and near the university. And I can see from the ground around you that I am not the first person to come and sit on your branches. I guess your favourite selfie spot or site of photography for many people. Maybe somebody has even talked to you or addressed you in some manner. I realized that my memories of Reykjavik are of a treeless city. And although I never came here on my first visit many many years ago but stayed in the centre and then went to the north, it's hard for me to understand how the whole city is now filled with trees. But then I had to look back in my CV to realise that the last, my first visit to Reykjavik was in 1992 that is 30 years ago. And of course, trees grow in 30 years if you allow them and if you plant them. I don't know if you were here 30 years ago, probably, but I also guess that you have been planted. Although I am not sure or if all the trees here in this wood, which really ... if they are planted, or if the first ones are planted and then the rest have grown as offspring. And now finally, the airplanes or helicopters disappeared for a moment at least. I was at the conference, I was describing my practice with some pine trees in Helsinki and Stockholm. And referring to the ideas of Craig Holdrege about thinking like a plant, where he suggests that we should consider plants as our teachers. And when it comes to trees, and especially pine trees, I really think that is really appropriate. So I would love to be able to learn from you something about this place. Because he maintains that plants can teach us rootedness, and sensitivity to context and site, because you embody literally, in your form, you embody the qualities of the circumstances, where you live. And of course, that makes me think, well, what made you grow such branches spreading out on the ground in all directions? Were your, were you hurt, when young, so that you were somehow bent or broken? Or is it simply in order to protect your trunk from falling in hard wind? Or? I don't know? Or could it be that people were sitting on your lap already, when young, so you decided to somehow surrender to that, and provide these branches? Well, this sounds like a somewhat anthropomorphising expression, but anyway, this idea that I could learn about the place from looking at you and touching you, and listening to you. And the other thing that he suggests that we could learn from plants in general, and I think I would love to learn from you, is the idea of process, of a way of living thinking, instead of object thinking, of dynamic thinking, in growth and decay, and transformation. Because, of course, you are transforming all the time, slowly, but nevertheless, all the time. And we humans do that, too, but we are not somehow accustomed to thinking like that, when it comes to other things. Or maybe we are. When you get older, you realise that things change. But nevertheless, I think I would have a lot to learn from you about that. Now, what I also of course, would like to learn, because this idea of the dynamic process concerns all plants, but this specific site is really special. And it's special in many ways. I mean, the whole country is special by being so far in the north. But this something that we humans could learn here is how to regenerate areas that we have destroyed. Because the first settlers to Iceland destroyed the forest, they had to in order to survive. And I read on a wall in the city centre that the first trees were planted in Reykjavik in 1700 something when there was a prison here, a Danish prison. And if I think of how much has been done in tree.., tree-wise so to speak, since my last visit, or not my last visit, my first visit 30 years ago, that's astonishing. The sound of the airplanes circulating in a weird manner reminds me of another legacy of this site which is the military remains from the Second World War when there was a British Air Force that built the airport and used the hill to hide large fuel tanks and so on. Of course you were probably not here at that time. Or if you were, you were really young. But the site carries remains from that time. I wonder how it feels to have those airplanes make that noise all the time? Probably there is something special going on today because it's Midsummer day, the 25th of June. Although I don't know why they celebrate that by all these airplanes or helicopters or whatever they are. Maybe you're accustomed to these regular noises nearby. Only when they're more distant can I hear the birds. I guess this is a special time for you as well as it is for us humans, because now the days are getting shorter again. Slowly. Of course it might get warmer for a while but the light diminishes now. It doesn't feel like a diminishing yet, because there is plenty of light and the sun is high up almost until midnight. But it's turning now. And I guess your life is even more dependent on light as the life of us humans. But now I'm rambling instead of listening to you. So rather than keep up with this endless monologue I will let you have a say before the airplanes return. - Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Hello pine, hello contorta pine, if you are a contorta pine. Pleased to meet you here on the Öskjuhlid hill, if I pronounce it correctly, in Reykjavik. It's sunny but very windy so I hope the wind will not destroy our conversation. There is some noise in the background from the, not only from the wind but from the airport, but it's not as bad as this morning. It's Midsummer day the 25th of June and I have had the opportunity to spend a day meeting the pine trees and walking along the shore. You are very strong-looking and special, especially you but all of your kin and there's plenty of you. And somehow you look so exotic to me because you're different than the pine trees I'm used to, the Scots spines in Finland. If you are a contorta pine you can adapt to very different types of circumstances and you're growing mostly in North America. I read that most of the pine trees that have been planted in Iceland for timber production are actually contorta pines. But here on the hill here you grow like almost in a shrub-like form. In some sense it's of course rude of me to to come here and just sit in your lap as it were, taking for granted that you accept such intimate contact. But you are growing next to a path and I can see that people have really, human beings have walked nearby many times and I cannot believe that they wouldn't have tried to sit here because you're providing such a beautiful branch to sit on. Now when the evening is approaching it's really chilly, but this is nevertheless the warmest time of the year. And I'm impressed by the thought of you standing here, all through the Icelandic winter, which is probably rather cold, rather wet and rather windy. This is a special place, this hill and this wood because there are not that many woods in Iceland, although there are some nowadays. This is a site that was used for military purposes by the British Air Force during the Second World War. And they also built the airport right behind. I wonder what would be the best way I could learn from you. Because as Craig Holdrege, however that is pronounced proposes, we should try to learn to think like plants. And that goes for trees as well, or maybe especially trees. I'm engaged in a project called Pondering with Pines, so I'm wondering what topic would be interesting to reflect on or contemplate here with you. And, of course, the two ideas that Holdrege emphasises, or the ones that I remember him emphasising, are plants as teachers of context, of situation, of circumstance and the importance of the circumstances. And on the other hand, plants and why not trees as teachers of process, of living, dynamic thinking, as opposed to object thinking. The part which concerns the context, the site, the circumstances, the surroundings, the situation, that is somehow very easy to understand, because you are rooted here and you express in your body, the characteristics of the place you're living in. But what about transformation, about processual thinking? It is perhaps more difficult to understand, except that, of course, you're continuously transforming body is evidence of that, too, like the lower branches that I'm touching right now, which are older and have lost their needles. And the upper branches that are full of needles and seem green and lush. It is difficult to imagine what made you grow into this form. What kind of decisions you had to make, in order to produce so many branches and twists in a way. It depends on if we think of... Or, I wonder, if you consider yourself as a collective, as many philosophers suggest that trees or plants are. Of course to use terms such as 'consider oneself' sounds anthropomorphising, but... What I mean is more like, you have a very specific way of organising your growth and your form because you really practice democracy as I would expect, or... I cannot know but if I understand biologist and botanists and philosophers engaged with plants it is like your different parts have quite a lot of agency, separately so you are self-organising, not centrally organised, but your different parts are more or less self-organising, but nevertheless synchronised. That's admirable, that's something we humans should learn from you as well. But, of course, this idea of not only adapting to circumstances, but creating your own circumstances is something very interesting as well. Because by planting trees and helping trees, after a while the trees, you, create your own habitat, your own circumstances, your own microclimate. You produce your soil, you create a wood or a forest. And that is of course, also very reassuring in a strange way that it is possible to recreate some kind of forests, because humans did destroy them here as I understand. They had to, to survive. And then they didn't realise that that the trees couldn't grow back because their world was destroyed. But by planting new trees, even though maybe not native trees, a new world is created so to speak, slowly, but still. So what else can I say here when I'm freezing? The sun is now behind the clouds. What else can I say except the congratulations for creating this world that we also can, this wood here on this hill, that we humans also can enjoy. And good luck with continuing with that work. Thank you. Thank you. 

Hello pine, hello contorta pine, I hope you are a contorta pine. Thank you for letting me sit here on your branch on Öskjuhlid hill. I have been talking with some of the pines here and elsewhere as part of the project Pondering with pines. Today I wanted to try to listen to you more than talk, because usually I'm often talking so much that I think I never really give the pine a chance to say what they need to say in their manner. The noise we hear now is from an aeroplane because we're near the domestic airport, which was actually built by the British Air Force during the Second World War and this hill is full of remains from that time. But it is also a forest or wood or recreational area quite near the centre of Reykjavik and on top of the hill there is this entertainment complex you could call it named Perlan which sits on top of some water containers I suppose. There used to be containers of fuel for the aircrafts hidden inside or among the cliffs here, but now it's a place for humans to walk around and enjoy. And here comes one human, bye bye. Yes, so I wonder if I should ask you something or just wait for some thoughts to come to my mind if they would be somehow induced or inspired by your preferences. It is not very easy to sense your ideas or your energy even. Some people can do that, but I'm not one of them. Nevertheless, it's clear that it's very urgent that we learn to communicate in some manner. Or if not to communicate at least to consider your preferences, your thoughts. They say that contorta pines are very adaptable, and can survive in harsh circumstances, harsh in different manner, in different ways. And in the typical language of our society, that is expressed as that you have... in a competitive situation, you will be the winner because you can survive many hardships. That's somehow a strange way to think of it. But this idea of adapting to circumstances and make the most of the situation you happen to grow in and also to somehow create your own world in collaboration with other creatures, that's something we should learn from you. I try to listen to you and today there is not so much wind, so it should be possible to hear something else than the wind. But what I can hear is only human airplanes and helicopters and other noises and then some birds luckily. But I cannot hear you. I can sense you, but your bark is not very welcoming I must say. I guess it's supposed to protect you from all kinds of intruders, like me. - I'm fascinated by your way of growing because most of your branches are actually dry and dead and somehow abandoned. And only very high up in the top, in your crown, do you have fresh needles. And I wonder if it's because you're growing so tightly with other pines and other trees here in this wood that you focus your photosynthetic energy only there where you have light and abandon all your own old branches. It cannot be because it's too dry because there is so much water here. There is so much rain all the time. And it doesn't look like it would be a disease. So it seems like it's a choice of yours or a habit. That's another thing that I would like to learn from you, this idea of abandoning things, letting them be, leaving them behind, or not behind because you still carry your branches, most of them, they're not falling away, but you're not trying to keep them alive or green. Or how should I know what you're trying to do? Maybe I should study more about pines, instead of sort of taking the shortcut and coming to you directly, trying to ask you, trying to feel from your body, the wisdom of your body. Perhaps I should trust human translators, scientists and botanists, biologists. And here's the human again. So, maybe that's the sign that I should leave you alone and thank you for this session. So, thank you for this session and all the best for the future days.