Monument for (or in) March: the common sea-buckthorn (Hippophaë rhamnoides) that grows in Ursinin Kallio Park on the shore, partly surrounded by a fence and marked by a sign stating that it is a monument, “muistomerkki” in Finnish, and protected, “rauhoitettu”, which literally means to be left in peace. It is probably protected because it grows unusually big, like a tree, although bending down over the shore. And parts of it are reaching far beyond the fence. If it is a monument, it must be a remarkable tree; I will try to spend a moment with it daily, during this month, and see if I can learn something by simply watching it. I might use the exercises described in the book Thinking Like a Plant by Craig Holdrege as an aid, too. And resort to Wikipedia as well, for some facts, like the name sea-buckthorn, in Finnish “tyrni”.
Tuesday 2.3. 2021
Sunshine, and a feeling of spring. Returning to the buckthorn feels comfortable, the shrub is already familiar. Looking at it more closely, it is really strange looking, though. The big brown buds grow directly from the stem, so they seem like strange bugs or outgrowths. I try to discern some system in how the branches are divided in pairs, or alternating, or in circular groups, but there seem to be no specific pattern. I have to see what Wikipedia can tell me. They explain this: “The shrubs reach 0,5-6 m tall, up to 10 m in Central Asia. The leaf arrangement can be alternate or opposite.” There are many types of sea buckthorns, Hippophaë rhamnoides has in itself eight subspecies. The name comes from the practice of serving the leaves to horses to support weight gain and appearance of the coat – ‘hippo’ means horse and ‘phaos’ shining… Interestingly, the shrub is dioecious, that is, there are separate male and female plants. “The male produces brownish flowers which produce wind-distributed pollen. The female plants produce orange berries 6-9 mm in diameter, soft, juicy and rich in oils. The roots distribute rapidly and extensively, providing a nonleguminous nitrogen fixation role in surrounding soils.” I have a hunch that this monument is a male, I cannot remember ever seeing any berries.
Sun, but chilly, the mud has received an ice coating. The sea-buckthorn looks the same. When I sit next to it, I try to discern why it looks so strange compared to other shrubs. One reason is that the branches are rather thick and compact, almost like spikes or some sort of sprouts. And they often grow from the same spot on the stem, or previous branch, spreading out in a circle, almost. And then the buds, of course, which look like thorns from afar. There are no thorns, actually, so why is it called a buckthorn? Or perhaps the thorns will appear with the leaves. (But a hawthorn, for example, has big thorns all year.) The bark is odd as well, smooth and grey – on the small branches or twigs, that is, because the main trunk that bends on the rocks is weathered with furrows like the bark of any old tree. The tips of the branches are the main distinguishing mark, at least in terms of the silhouette. There are thin light grey twigs between the “ordinary” thick ones, but they seem to be dry and dead. Could it be that the shrub will blossom on bare branches, before the leaves? And what will the small brown flowers look like? I’m already expectant…
The open sea is coming closer; below the sea-buckthorn the sea is still frozen, the ice reflecting the sun. There are birds around that can be heard, but the small sparrow, which was moving among the branches yesterday, is no longer there. I find it hard to notice anything special about the thorn from where I sit and enjoy the sun instead. Afterwards I find a note online, Helsinki city environmental office lists all the natural monuments in the city, most of them trees. They explain how the general reason for protecting a natural phenomenon, like a tree or a group of trees or a large rock, can be that it is rare, important for the landscape, for science, beauty or some other similar significance. This sea-buckthorn is only one of many protected deciduous and coniferous trees and the reason is its particular tree-like mode of growth. Usually, (in Finland, I suppose) they are between 0,5 and 3 m tall, and this one is approximately 7 m long, with the circumference of its trunk at its base being 110 cm. The decision to protect it was taken only 1999. – There is a long list of protected trees with their locations indicated; perhaps I should visit some other ones, too?
End of the sunny days and return of winter winds, at least for a while. Today there are not many people out on the shore, and my session was shorter than usual, too, although I tried to count my breaths. Not much observation today, I mainly tried to survive the chilly wind. The buckthorn did not work so well as a wind shield without leaves. For the shrub this temperature is nothing; it is known to survive -40 C in northern China, which is the other end of is habitat across Asia. I used to think Sea-buckthorn was a southern species, probably because it grows in the southwest and west of Finland, but it seems to be the opposite. It grows on the coast because it can survive in harsh conditions and in poor soil as long as there is enough sunlight, like the sandy shores or above tree level in the Alps or in the deserts in central Asia. In Sweden it is actually called either ‘havtorn’, ‘havstörne’ (sea thorne) or ‘finnbär’, Finnish berry. I also read that the sea-buckthorn used to be protected in Finland, collecting its berries regulated, until 2006. Obviously, it has spread and recovered well, and is nowadays cultivated, too, in many places, because of the great concentration of vitamins (C and also A) in the berries. I am still confused about the thorns, though; where are the thorns of this old fellow?
Snow and wind – and cold, too. The ice, however, is melting into large floes that move around in the water. There is a Great Tit bird (‘talitiainen’ in Finnish) in the sea-buckthorn, singing insistently despite the weather. Perhaps it is the same one that was there a few days ago, but now it is really calling out. The snow on the rocks make it harder to find the right spot for the tripod, and snow is covering the sea-buckthorn as well. Yesterday I hurt my knee and had to walk here slowly. Luckily, I have no problem in sitting with my knees bent, though. – Now the hardiness of the buckthorn comes in handy, not sending out sprouts too early, only to have them killed by the frost. No, it seems to wait patiently for the ‘real’ spring signs. I wonder if that is the light or the temperature, or a combination, probably. When I look for information about the sea-buckthorn in Finnish I learn that its home is in the Himalayas, and that it grows wild in Siberia, Mongolia, China, Russia, the Alps, Poland, Germany and in the windy coastal areas of the Nordic countries. Based on pollen findings it has grown all over Europe after the Ice Age. It is traditional food among the fishing people on the west coast of Finland and its berries are served as jam or sauce with fish. The berries ripen late in the autumn. They are very oily and sour, full of vitamins and antioxidants. In China the leaves are served as tea resembling green tea… Well, the bark, which is the only thing available now - except that the fellow is protected, of course!
The sun is back, but the cold remains – and now the sea is open, except a thin surface of ice near the shore, remaining from the night, I guess. I sit on the snowy rocks and listen to the workers on the pier, the children screaming in the park behind me and the crows having some form of conversation nearby. The sea-buckthorn seems even more withdrawn today, contracting in the cold. Returning at home I read about the berries as a superfood, traced back to Tibetan Star-Bu or D’har-Bu, first recorded in 700 or something like that. Interestingly, it’s use has been investigated by the military in Russia during the cold war, it has been part of the diet of Russian cosmonauts and also used for skin treatment of bed sores, burns and radiation injuries, for example after the Chernobyl accident. Well, this is all unverified information online, but nevertheless fascinating. What seems to be factual is the number of fatty acids (including all main omegas), antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins and minerals as well as cholesterol reducing phytosterols it contains. The problem is, of course, that the berries taste really sour even though they look beautiful, so one needs to know that they are “super food” in order to give them a chance. The berries ripen very late in the autumn and the thorns make it hard to pick them, and therefore every year much “golden health” remains in the cultivated shrubs for the benefit of birds…
Snowstorm, Siberian winter suddenly – this changed my focus completely, although this kind of cold and windy weather is probably nothing special for the sea buckthorn. For me it meant some stupid difficulties and a story to tell: To begin with I struggled through the snowstorm to the shore, placed my camera on tripod and realized it would need a weight near the ground to stay in balance. I packed my fur coat in the bag and went to sit on the snowy rocks, counting my breaths, and noticed I had forgot my mittens on, but fine, things happen. When I returned, I hurried to put on my clothes while the camera was recording the empty image, and when I removed the weight of my coat it immediately toppled over and fell on the rock. In a flash I saw myself sending an email to the insurance company and calculated how long it would take to repair the camera, if it was possible. When looking at the camera I noticed at least the objective was not broken, so I stopped the camera and the microphone, packed them as best I could and returned home. To my delight I noticed that the camera worked, what a miracle! When I tried to look at the recent footage, it could not be played. The computer revealed the sad truth, an mdt file, that is a damaged file was recorded on the memory card. I looked it up online, and that is what happens when the recording is interrupted accidentally. I realized there was nothing else to be done but return to the shore, but chose to wait if the storm would subside, but no. After lunch and an hour or so, I realized it was time to go down to the shore again, and now the wind was actually worse. I brought with me a heavy metal pot full of old coins to use as a weight. At the shore I quickly decided that there was no way I could leave the camera standing but would have to record an image of the sea-buckthorn without me sitting next to it. I had to hold on to the tripod and it was actually hard work not to fall over in the wind. And the camera was moving with the worst gusts, too. But I managed to record a few minutes. Ironically, in the still images the wind does not really show.
Sunshine but cold, February weather is back. According to my phone the wind is only 8 m/s but on the shore the sudden gusts were really strong. I tried to ‘compromise’ with it, to adjust the tripod lower, although that would change the image slightly, and I even experimented with taking away the microphone, which easily catches the wind, in order to make the camera less top heavy – all to no avail. Luckily there were quite a few people walking along the shore, due to the sunny weather, and I asked two ladies if they could help me for three minutes. I explained that they needed to hold on to the tripod so it would not topple over, and they agreed gladly. Thus, I sat with the sea-buckthorn and saw how it or they, too, was bending in the wind. And thought about collaboration; how is it so difficult for me to ask for help, and how good it feels to actually receive help from strangers, and to be able to give that too. Maybe I had the courage to ask for help because I had helped an old lady with a crutch this morning, which in turn was a result of my hurting knee, which created the empathy needed to even notice she could do with some help. The sea-buckthorn has some helpers in the roots, like alder trees, although of a different kind. The microbes helping the sea-buckthorn by fixing nitrogen from the air into the soil are bacteria of the Frankia family, which live in the root nodules of the thorn and assist in creating them, and in symbiosis with other ‘actinorhizal’ plants (whatever they are). I have sometimes pondered how it would be to be able to photosynthesize, but to be a nitrogen fixer would not be bad either. Although the idea with collaboration is that you do not have to do everything yourself. So thank you, helpful ladies!
Strange misfortunes or difficulties, today my camera was off. I did not know if it was broken or if I had pressed the wrong button at some point, but it would not let me adjust the aperture. The wind was too unreliable; already on the way to the shore I realized I might have to stay with the camera and let the sea-buckthorn perform alone. The gusts of wind were surprisingly strong, and the only people out were those jogging quickly past, so there was nobody to ask for help. But I did not expect the camera to act up. To begin with I could see only white, and since the aperture was impossible to adjust, I had to change the time. The wind was so cold that my fingers could not take my repeated attempts at checking the settings; I walked into the lobby of the cafeteria, which was open for take a way, and tried to find out what was wrong, but could not solve the problem. In the end I made an image, however, sitting and holding on to the camera tripod for a few minutes, and already planned a trip to the camera experts in the city centre. At home I looked at the camera again, and after removing and reconnecting the objective it started working again. Strange anomalies – probably related to the dissertation I am to examine, or rather serve as the opponent for tomorrow. Or is there something I should understand now; for example stop entering the image myself and focusing on the sea-buckthorn instead?
A visit later in the afternoon, with subsiding wind and rising temperature. This time I used another bag and an iron frying pan, (yes, a fairly small one) to keep the weight of the camera tripod close to the ground and was able to sit next to the sea-buckthorn for a while. I looked at the branches and it seemed as if the tips were slightly worn out by the snowstorm – well perhaps I was imagining. Without the snow I could see the yellowish spots on the stems, which looked like lichen, although very small (see image to the right). When looking for information about sea-thorns online at home I could find no mention of lichen that would prefer sea-buckthorn, nor any real folklore about the shrub. In some lists of magical herbs buckthorn is mentioned, but I suspect it is not the sea-buckthorn. I looked at a small book of trees (Collins gem), and sea-buckthorn was not included. And when searching among my picture books and esoteric literature I realised the sea-buckthorn is not included in the Irish crane bag which lists all kinds of trees and shrubs and their oils, nor in the books depicting the Celtic tree. Obviously, the sea-buckthorn is not part of the British flora, but a more northern and eastern shrub, although it seems to be grown in Scotland today. As a really ancient plant, one would expect to find it in the old tales, but no…
What a pleasure to sit with the sea-buckthorn when there is no wind, or not much wind, or when the wind is slowly turning like this afternoon! The sun burst out from behind the clouds only after I had finished recording, but one could sense it coming. I sat and thought about the missing thorns and wondered whether only the female sea-buckthorns would have thorns, or whether they would grow with the leaves. If the flowers of male thorn are wind pollinated, then they would not need protection, that is no thorns, while the berries would need protection. Strange logic when I think about it. If the thorns prevent cattle or other herbivores from eating the shrub, the mode of pollination makes no difference. On the contrary, one would expect that the shrub would want its berries to be eaten, and to spread that way, why otherwise produce nutritious berries? The rust brown buds look very dry and could almost be associated with thorns. I was so curious to know if they really were alive, that I broke one off a twig and yes, the contact surface was pale green and fresh. The brown colour is only a disguise… that is probably a sort of protection, so they are not eaten during the cold months…Anyway, I really enjoyed the moment with the shrub, after the previous complications, and only hope that the wind will stay reasonable during the remaining weeks…
Wet snow all day, turning to water the moment when hitting the ground, temperature above zero. I waited for the wind to subside until late in the afternoon, and by the time I got to the shore snowfall was also not so strong. The sea-buckthorn seemed somehow refreshed of the humidity, the drops of water glistening on its branches, which seemed more reddish brown than grey now. Possibly imagination, of course, but I guess the shrub knows to prepare for expanding its buds not only because of the increasing amount of daylight or the rise in temperature but also when the frost gives way to dampness. I am reading a book about biodiversity, a Finnish journalist trying to explore how come so many birds, insects, plants and mosses have disappeared during the last decades, and it seems one major reason is the disappearance of suitable habitats, or their disconnection from one another, so that local populations do not get to mix with neighbouring ones and slowly deteriorate, unless not directly killed or turned into “widows” when their companion species or food disappear. The disconnection of suitable living quarters is particularly hazardous for the specialists, because in most places the generalists simply take over, and those who have adapted to specific circumstances of scarcity cannot compete with them. In some sense that is what has happened with the sea-buckthorn. It is a pioneer plant, adapted to harsh circumstances, like cold and wind and steep slopes and rocks or sand, even salt. In richer soil it is overgrown by other plants and cannot compete for light with them. As it is now, sea-buckthorn grows and is also grown all along the west-coast of Finland and is not seriously threatened. The sea-buckthorn was protected in Finland and the picking of its berries used to be regulated until 2006, but no longer. Today the farmers complain that a lot of berries remain in the shrubs because people find the thorns hard to tackle and dislike getting out on cold and dark November days when the berries are ripe. One online site recommends one to place a cloth under the shrub and try to shake the shrub to make the berries fall on the cloth. Hm. I have never seen sea-buckthorn berries in the wild, I must admit, nor tried to pick them.
Sitting with the sea-buckthorn today in soft March weather, not really rain but drizzle, between zoom meetings indoors, with everything wet and melting around us and no wind to worry about, the ice floes moving softly in the sea below, was relaxing and lovely. But did I notice or learn anything new about the shrub, no, not really. I was simply enjoying the moment, which for once did not involve any struggle whatsoever. At some point I thought about the difficulty of describing the shrub, if I would have to do it in words, and also of the singularity or individuality of this particular shrub. Because it is an individual in the sense that it is very special, and that is further accentuated by its being protected. Even without the sign and the fence it would be special simply as the result of its manner of growing in this special place in this special time. Of course, individuality is a difficult word, because like all living beings, humans included, the shrub is a community of sorts. And when it comes to plants, they are even less individuals than humans, because they are not in-divisible, on the contrary most of them are very divisible, indeed. I could probably break a branch of the sea-buckthorn and put it in water and wait until it has grown some roots and then replant it – and there, I would have divided the sea-buckthorn into two, to begin with. Well, I am not planning to do that, the point was simply to illustrate the special capacities of plants. That said, it is long past the time when I should have “divided” my houseplants, or at least given them new soil for the coming year. That remains to be done…
Being rooted in the world, that is something the sea-buckthorn could teach me, or any plant, probably. Because it is clinging to the rocks on the steep slope and reaching down along the shore, the old shrub is somehow emphasizing rootedness. It is not striving upwards but downwards, in all directions, actually. If I did not know better, I would imagine it is trying to bend down to the sea. In his book Thinking like a Plant Craig Holdrege suggests that rootedness is the first thing we could learn from plants, and he translates that to perception, suggesting that drawing, for instance, is a great tool to get into the phenomena around us, and especially drawing of plants. Since I work with the camera I am not drawing, and if I sometimes draw or paint, I never do it in relationship to direct perception. The camera registers the world so much better, not always, but on days like this for sure. Today I was focused on listening while sitting with the sea-buckthorn, probably inspired by the work of Jacek Smolicki, who is recording one minute every day. Today there was some strange loud motor sounds, crows flying past, small birds chirping, people walking on the ice-covered path. The sea-buckthorn is silent, even a strong wind did not produce any sound from its branches, and the wind today was soft. But it is registering the sound environment in some manner, as vibrations or? The video camera is recording the sound, too, but the microphone I have attached to it is not very sensitive, and to soften the sound of the wind, which usually hits it rather brutally making harsh sounds, it is covered by a fluffy “cap”. The year of a tree in sounds? Or a month? Something to think about…
Despite the recent snowfall the sea-buckthorn looked dryer today, and some of the smaller branches inside the shrub were clearly grey. I looked at them and wondered whether they would actually function like thorns. The thicker branches, covered with buds do not have sharp tops, but some of the smaller ones are very pointed and could very well develop into thorns. Another thing we can learn from plants, according Holdrege, is transformation. And they sure do transform continuously, within one shrub and of course over time, with the seasons, while growing, growing flowers and berries, as well as growing old. Plants are experts in process thinking, and that is something I should learn more about – paradoxically, I seems, since making time-lapse videos is all about process. It is not that much about transformation, however, because I am trying to keep my part largely untransformed in order to see the landscape and the tree – or in this case the sea-buckthorn – transform. Unfortunately, March is a month when most of the transformations are still hidden, I do not expect the buds to grow or the blooming to happen before April, and by then I am no longer sitting next to the shrub but encountering other trees and shrubs in the north. The potential transformation of twigs to thorns nevertheless interests me, and I probably have to come and visit the sea-buckthorn when I return, in May. I took some snapshots of the grey twigs a little higher up in the shrub (see images on the right), because the ones next to me where I sit on the rock are thick with buds.
The sun burst thought he clouds only while I was sitting with the sea-buckthorn and felt surprisingly warm. Otherwise, the wet snow had frozen and the wind, although blowing from the mainland and thus not creating any waves on the shore, was chilly. I was sitting next to the shrub, with my animal self strangely alert to the noises of people passing by behind me; their steps making a quirky sound on the ice or the frozen ground seemed so very nearby. When looking at the sea-buckthorn next to me I remembered the notion coined by Donna J. Haraway when describing a coral-protecting crocheting project, intimacy without proximity, which made complete sense in that context, being intimate with the coral reef without having to travel there and disturb their life. My relationship with the sea-buckthorn seems almost the opposite, proximity without intimacy. I do not feel any real contact with the shrub and my relationship is coloured with respect rather than affection, I guess. I am very careful not to disturb the shrub, not to touch it even. Of course, we are connected by the trans-corporeal exchanges taking place, through the air we breathe to begin with. Another association followed, the question Haraway asks when writing about her relationship to her dog; whom and what is she touching when touching her dog? So, perhaps I should ask, who and what am I visiting, or sitting next to, or spending time with when I visit, sit next to and spend time with the sea-buckthorn, even though I do not physically, intentionally touch it or them?
The spring is definitively here despite the ice-covered ground and the chilly wind. The sea is largely open, and although parts of it freeze during the night, the sun is really warm in daytime. The sea-buckthorn looks dry and grey, not at all “expectant” as when it was damp. The brownish buds on the grey twigs look almost like bugs. – Yesterday I bought myself some sea-buckthorn jam and an applesauce-sea-buckthorn mixture that I am looking forward to. I have vague memories of trying sea-buckthorn juice many years ago, and it was very sour and bitter, too. Let’s see what apple and sugar can do. Sometimes jam is made of rowanberries mixed with apple sauce, which can be really good. The rowan berries vary from tree to tree, they told me in Kainuu last autumn, and people used to plant rowans that were known to be sweet next to it when they built a new house. I wonder if sea-buckthorns have such variety, too. And since they are cultivated, they are probably bred to have various properties. Tasting sea-buckthorn jam will not necessarily help me understand the fellow I am spending time with now, but it is one form of knowing, too, to know what sea-buckthorn berries can taste like and what they can be used for. The animal in me is interested in what to eat and what not, and of all the possible tastes, too…
Snowstorm, a rather hard wind. When walking down to the shore I realized I might not be able to sit with the sea-buckthorn today, not even with the help of a passer-by to hold the camera tripod, because there were no passers-by, only an occasional runner or somebody hurriedly walking their dog. I placed my camera as before, carefully, and recorded three minutes of the sea-buckthorn in the wind, the snow from the west quickly beginning to hit the lens and forming white blobs in the image. I was not even near the shrub this time. I am reading a book by Natalie Loveless called How to Make Art at the End of the World. A Manifesto for Research-Creation and in her psychoanalytically oriented understanding of inter- and multi-disciplinarity she puts a lot of emphasis on erotically driven curiosity as the motor for research-creation, which is the Canadian term for a hybrid of artistic and scholarly research practice. I wonder where my curiosity lies, and whether it has anything to do with the sea-buckthorn, really. Or, to put it in another manner, what is the research here, do I even have a research question. Originally the whole project of meeting with trees was conceived of as an art project, something I realized I wanted to do. Because I then start to wonder and also write about my work a research dimension creeps in, without a proper question. The questions she asks are relevant in any case: “Why is one interested in what one is interested in?” And also: “What do I not know here? To what am I not attending? What is drawing me forward, and why?” (Lovelesss 2019, 70). Is it simply an ego-project, or an unconscious obsession, or the old hope of quantity turning into quality at some point?
After the Spring Equinox, yesterday, which I noticed only in the evening, the weather today feels more like spring. The wind was momentarily quite strong, but as a troke of good luck it did not blow any sudden gusts while I was sitting with the sea-buckthorn. This time I took a look at the other side of it, and realized it is very big, not tall, but rather spread out, and the main trunk is thick. And not only is it a protected shrub, it is also deliberately supported by a wooden crutch of sorts (see image to the right). While continuing my walk along the shore I also looked at its small neighbour, growing similarly over the rocks further towards the west, and in the younger shrub the thorns looked much more obvious (see image to the right). I continued my walk – basically a very familiar path, but I have rarely walked there with sea-buckthorns in mind – and noticed a whole are with cultivated sea-buckthorns. Or, I should rather say that I now noticed how the shrubs lining the beach and forming a demarcation to the street were actually cultivated sea-buckthorns. The buds were clearly recognizable, albeit much smaller, as were the branches and the twigs (see images to the right). Looking at those decorative, domesticated bushes I realize that protecting the old grumpy fellow almost falling over into the sea is not such a bad idea ; I would not imagine them to be the same species unless I knew…
Sunny Monday, not too much wind, but the sea-buckthorn looks old and grey and dry – probably I am projecting my own feelings on it, or then the sparkling surroundings work as a contrast. When I sit next to the shrub, I think of the ideas I worked this morning, on the one hand regarding plants as persons, like Matthew Hall, and on the other hand regarding them as being infinitely divisible, characterised by divisibility and participation, like Michael Marder, rather than indivisible, individuals. For him “the dispersed life of plants is a mode of being in relation to all the others, being qua being-with”, he writes. It is of course tempting to regard the sea-buckthorn as an individual, even as a kind of person, with a history of its own, resulting from the life it has experienced on this very site. But on the other hand, it makes complete sense to see it as a community of beings, each branch, twig and even bud living its life together with all the others in a continuously expanding network of extensions. If humans are conglomerates of various cells and microbes of many species, and nevertheless individuals and persons in some manner, perhaps the sea-buckthorn could be considered a person in a somewhat related manner. Unlike humans, the shrubs are nevertheless also divisible in practice, a twig might become a new shrub. Luckily the old fellow is protected, so I cannot even consider breaking a branch and making an experiment…
March is soon ending, well, there is still one week to go, but I already see these visits being over. There are still icefloes in the sea, the wind is cold, and the sea-buckthorn is curling up without any signs of wanting to start growing. Reading Coloniality of Power by Quijano, makes me think of the difference that continuity makes. Despite divisions into Occident and Orient and at times strictly protected borders the Eurasian landmass has provided a continuum, for plants as well as people to move, trade, rob each other and the land, exchange customs and more. The travels of Marco Polo come to mind. The sea-buckthorns have travelled and changed, too, and they grow on the Tibetan plateau, on sandy beaches on the Finnish west coast as well as on the slopes of the Alps, more or less of their own accord – well surely helped by people and animals and microbes as well as the wind. They are not imported and introduced from another continent like many of the plants that seem so local, like potatoes or tomatoes and more. Today the cultivated versions are probably imported, and they immediately have developed their own pests, too, or rather, have been colonised by them. The traditional ones are the sea-buckthorn moths or “tyrnikeulakoi” (Gelechia hippophaëlla) and the newcomer is the sea-buckthorn fruit fly or “tyrnikärpänen” (Rhagoletis batava). The moths are feeding on the leaves and spinning them. The larvae of the fruit flies eat the flesh inside the berries. If they are around, they will show up only later in the year.
Windy Wednesday, cold and stormy. This time I did not even consider sitting with the shrub and went down to the shore without changing into my black performance wear. Simply to stand next to the camera tripod for a few minutes felt like an ordeal, because the wind came head on from the west. Now the ancestral knowledge of Siberian winters that I imagine the sea-buckthorn to carry with it came in handy, I thought. Perhaps there is some similar knowledge in my heritage, too - who knows where the old farmers in southern Tavastia, or the fishermen in Pärnå came from – because there is something strangely satisfying in focusing on sheer survival for a moment. The last part, for a moment, is important, because cold easily becomes unbearable. The trees and shrubs that have created ways to stand the cold, and much worser cold than this, are really worthy of respect. Now the lilacs in the park with large yellowish green buds ready to burst are suffering, their buds freezing in the night, while the sturdy sea-buckthorn has not reacted to the warm afternoon sunlight, yet, but rather bides its time patiently. If the shrub really is a collective, one would imagine some parts of it to be impatient and start growing before the others, but all parts seem to react in a uniform manner, well organised and synchronised despite the variously vulnerable placement with regards to the wind or the light. I am already hoping for the first signs of life to appear…
The sun is back, and the spring has definitely arrived. No doubt there will be frosty nights still, but the snow is melting fast in daytime. The sea-buckthorn looked as dry and grumpy as before, not jumping up at the first sign of warmth. I read in a popular science magazine a reply to the question what actually initiates the growing season; it seems to be that the internal clock of the plants follows both time and temperature. Evergreen trees and shrubs can go on with their photosynthesis even in the midst of snow, as soon as there is some light, but most plants hibernate in winter, saving their energy by keeping their vital functions slow and at a minimum. The buds of trees can sense the light long before they burst open, however, and as soon as the temperature rises to zero degree their internal clock starts ticking. Plants can measure differences in daytime temperature and the passing of time. The growing season will begin only when sufficient time has passed after the cold period. This is called chilling requirement and will vary for different plants. For crops there are various chill models created, that are specific for specific regions. I wonder what the chill requirement for sea-buckthorn is, and whether this old fellow has developed its own model during all these years it has survived here, and also what happens now if the climate will change fairly quickly?
Misty morning, the sounds of the construction work were piercing through the soft whiteness, without horizon. While sitting with the sea-buckthorn the sun started to shimmer through the mist, and writing this now, at home, the sky is already blue – weird, but such sudden shifts are typical of spring weather here. On the way back I saw the masses of snow bells that had burst through the soil immediately when the ice was gone, but the old fellow is not budging an inch, not yet. No need to hurry, better to be safe than sorry, and so on. I am reading Rosi Braidotti, who references Viveiros de Castro and his presentation of indigenous perspectivism, which understand human nature as commonly shared among non-humans, too, and where each being appears to itself and to others as human, even if it also is a specific animal, plant or spirit. Like we say that humans are animals, besides being human, we could think of plants as human, besides begin plants. Or, to understand ‘human’ as an experiential category. I experience myself as myself, conscious, as human, and perhaps the sea-buckthorn experiences themselves as themselves, as a ‘me’, as conscious in some manner, and therefore also human. Anyway, I cannot know what the sea-buckthorn feels or thinks or how they understand themselves, but I can assume that they have some kind of sense of themselves as well, so imagining their feelings or thoughts or understandings from my own, necessarily human perspective is perhaps not as naïve or misguided as one used to think…
Sunshine, calm, peaceful in many ways – there is no wind, but the workers are also gone, because it is Saturday. Nobody is drilling on the pier, and the excavator moving the huge rocks on the jetty with a horrendous sound. Now I can hear the birds, people laughing, and some strange low murmur in the background, probably the boat from Tallinn. When I look at the sea-buckthorn in the sunshine it looks really grey, and the buds seem even smaller now. I realize that the main part of the thicket consists of dry and withered grey branches without any buds; the buds appear only at the periphery, on the edges of the branches, and the whole middle part of the shrub is actually dead – or looks dead. Well, that is natural, I guess, because the buds are producing leaves, and they are needed in the areas where they can det as much light as possible. The funny thing is that I have not noticed it before. If I have to sit next to a shrub twenty-seven times before I notice the obvious, I wonder what other obvious things I still don’t see. Perhaps these moments with the shrub are more about me receiving energy from the sea, the rocks (now completely dry, without snow) and the old fellow next to me, and less about observing and learning, although that was my aim to begin with…
Palm Sunday, beginning of Easter week, grey and chilly, although no longer cold. After the warm day yesterday, I did not bring my gloves, although they would have been needed today. That is what often happens in springtime, you imagine that the development towards summer is linear, although it is a continuous back and forth. The sea-buckthorn is very clever to bide its time, or probably wise, experienced. The snow-covered lawns that are now flooding with melt water are beginning to dry, and all the dirt that was hidden in the ice is now revealed. The stillness from yesterday continues, no work noises, but for some reason there is a huge drama with seagulls – probably there was some food somewhere. And when they calm down there is some controversy among the dogs in the park, which keep barking at each other from far away, despite the vain attempts by humans to take them in separate directions. And new ones join the argument in support. I’m sitting on the dry rocks next to the dry shrub, relaxing in the mellow wind. My mind is already planning for the future, only a few of these days with the sea-buckthorn remain, and soon, before Easter, actually, I will be on my way to Hailuoto island to meet new shrubs. There might be sea-buckthorns, too, but the island is large, and I will stay many kilometres from the seashore. When I return, I will come to visit the sea-buckthorn – without a camera – out of curiosity, to see how the buds develop…
Spring feeling is gone, replaced by a cold drizzle and an icy wind. I return to the sea-buckthorn in the afternoon, after a trip to Harakka Island, first time in more than a month, wet and freezing already before coming to the shrub. Perhaps that was the reason, rather than the wind (merely 9 m/s according to the weather report) that made me stay behind the camera instead of sitting next to the old fellow. I should try to savour the joy of these last meetings, because March is ending soon, two more days to go, and with March also my visits to the sea-buckthorn. Reading Braidotti still – slowly, slowly – I am wondering in what manner these rather clumsy attempts of mine of getting to know the shrub are actually symptoms rather than remedies when considering the current posthuman condition, which she sees as a convergence between the traditional critique of humanism (the white European ‘Man’ as the measure of all things) and the critique of anthropocentrism, of blindness to all other forms of life besides the human. Something needs to be done in order to reconnect with other forms of life, but what? Tomorrow I am talking about my project in a lecture online, organised from Copenhagen, with a focus on my practice of writing letter to trees with the trees. In contrast to that practice these notes are written afterwards, not on site, and they are not addressed to the shrub but to … yes, to who? Myself? Well, they are field notes, although published here on the Research Catalogue as soon as they are written, or rather archived, to keep them somewhere where I can find them later.
The month ends on a misty note, or rather, with the brutal noises of metal clashing with granite from the jetty, reaching the sea-buckthorn through the soft whiteness. And it does not really end yet, because tomorrow is the last day of the month. I am sitting next to the shrub and thinking how it might experience these noises, which are accompanied by the occasional drilling from the pier, laughing humans passing by and eagerly chirping birds in the trees nearby. The animal in me reacts to the sudden harsh noises of the rocks clashing with the machine with apprehension, preparing to react to a potential danger. I wonder what kind of reactions the sea-buckthorn could come up with, it cannot run away, nor crouch behind a bigger rock, but perhaps it could try to draw in as much energy as possible to the roots, in preparation for a potential damage of the branches, or something. Self-preservation is a characteristic of all life, and a rockslide of some sort would be fatal for a shrub as well. If plants can learn, much like Pavlov’s dogs, as Monica Gagliano has shown, then they can become accustomed to things as well. Perhaps the sea-buckthorn is used to the noise by now and has become accustomed to the harsh sounds without taking them as signs of imminent danger. That is what has happened to humans as well, at least to some extent. Some readiness still remains though. Although I know there is absolutely no danger to expect from the machine rearranging the rocks on the other side of the bay, despite the horrendous sounds, some animal part of me still experiences the stress. And that is of course a healthy sign, my senses are still functioning. Probably the same is true, and even more so, for the sea-buckthorn.
Last visit to the sea-buckthorn in the same horrendous noise, without the mist, however. Before hurrying to the shore, I looked at a text that a participant added to the chat of a webinar yesterday, where I spoke about my practice of writing letters to trees with the trees or next to the trees. It was contesting the idea of plant “neurobiology” and insisting that consciousness is a function of brain activity, exactly how the brain activity produces consciousness nobody knows, of course. I have to look at it again, but on the one hand I wonder if consciousness is not actually overrated. How about sleep – I slept rather badly last night – am I conscious when dreaming? And what about all the thinking that my body does without my being conscious of it? And then, on the other hand, why would plants have to be conscious in the same way as humans in order to be sentient intelligent beings that make choices based on their perceptions etc. I am not a scientist and have a problem acknowledging that I do not know, but I also think it is better to assume that other beings have their own ways of living their lives and that it makes sense to try to respect that. If it turned out that the sea-buckthorn is a complicated mechanism that functions like an automaton no harm would be done by some considerate thoughts from my side. If it turned out that the sea-buckthorn is an intelligent being with strong preferences regarding the presence of animals, including humans, in their vicinity, and I would have unintentionally caused them pain or damage, that would be sad. I hope that has not been the case. And in case they have found my repeated visits irritating, now they are finally over. I will miss the sea-buckthorn I think, at least for a while. The good thing with shrubs, however, is that they tend to stay where they are, so I can always come back for a revisit…
Sunny weather still; the pier next to the sea-buckthorn is being renovated wit horrible noise at times. The snow is melting, rapidly turning into mud. The rocks that line the shore are dry, though. And the buckthorn looks the same. It is really bending down towards the water; perhaps it like moist. Or then salt, except that the sea is not really salty here (and is now frozen anyway). Being able to tolerate salt and cold is the forte of the thorn, while it needs plenty of light, they say. (They, being the writers of Wikipedia that I consulted yesterday). This ability might be the result of some symbionts working on its behalf, just like the nitrogen binding capacity, which very probably is due to some bacteria. These thoughts did not arise from watching the shrub, but from the text by Scott F. Gilbert, “Holobiont by Birth”, which I was reading before visiting the shore. Back to basic observations!
The video Monument in March (brief) above, (31 min 10 sec.) is based on daily performances with a protected sea-buckthorn, designated a nature monument, between 1 and 31 March 2021. The full version Monument in March is 122 min 20 sec.