Yesterday I drove up into the mountains above Santa Barbara to see my old friends Marc and Julie. My purpose (or so I thought) was to interview Marc, otherwise known as Treebeard, for this very website, but it turned into an informal visit, which was actually even better.
Although retired from an illustrious career as a teacher, Treebeard is a busy man, fully immersed in an ongoing labor of love. He explores the backcountry near his house each day, zooming into an often unseen universe of insects and plants, documenting these for posterity in an extraordinary online archive of photographs.
We looked through a few images together at his computer: butterflies, a multitude of mushrooms, myriad forms of life both weird and gorgeous. There's the transparent shed skin of a spider, a katydid nymph, a shiny new oak apple gall, the tiny sporangia of slime molds growing on a fallen branch of Coast Live Oak. There's a Sara Orangetip on Bitter Gooseberry, a mating pair of Western Boxelder Bugs, and the pale blue flowers of Native Greenbark Ceanothus.
"Beautifully intricate," Treebeard has written of the latter, "like little origami boxes."
That's the poet in him. He's a talented and patient photographer, and the images are beautiful, but each is also accompanied by an illuminating caption that is explanatory and often lovely. He presents the scientific and common names, fascinating facts and observations, and some journal-like comments about the specifics of the day, all shared with eloquence and clarity. His sense of wonder is palpable.
Worrisome changes loom, globally and locally. Around here it's been too dry, eerily warm, seasons askew, repercussions yet unknown. But there's so much life happening, so many miraculous things unfolding.
And some folks look up at the heavens, pondering distant galaxies. My friend Treebeard explores a different infinity. He peers into the micro-cosmos...quietly observing, recording, and archiving.
"For all we know, some of these things may be happening for the last time," he muses, hoping that's not true. "But I'm documenting as much as I can."
Here is the link to Treebeard’s photos, an extraordinary gift to all of us.