Localogy: A Conversation With Trees

By Matt Teismann from Cleveland, Ohio


I would like to begin by first giving a brief background on who I am, and more importantly what I am, this will help explain where my conceptions of localogy come from. I am an architect, well not really. I have a degree in architecture and am close to finishing up the requirements for my professional license. I have lived in many different places in the world, places both unique and distinct. Having spent my childhood in the midwest of the North American continent, I consider that region my roots. I have also lived in New York, spent roughly half a year in Italy, and lived in Ireland for three years. Currently I am back in the midwest dwelling in Cleveland, Ohio. But more important than who I am is what I am. I am a human, or better, an animal. I roam this earth like other animals, and similarly dwell with the earth. I have two legs, two arms, two eyes, and a mind that all work in unison together with the environment around me. I dwell.


It is from these foundations that I would like to discuss a more recent walk in a desolate park in downtown Cleveland. Cleveland is a complicated place, with a history ranging from the banal to the profane. So when i say ‘downtown’ Cleveland I am not necessarily describing a concrete abyss between skyscrapers, although that exists. Immediately to the east of the edifices breaking the horizon, is a small park nestled adjacent to the shore of Lake Erie. To say that the area is desolate cannot be an exaggeration. Strickened with large, and mostly abandoned warehouses, the area is a void in the urban fabric of the city. Centered around this walk are a few thoughts I would like to share about nature, death, urbanity, and presence.


Rows of trees surround the perimeter of all sides of the park. Not planted purposefully, rather the trees reveal a void; the park is a void removed from the middle, leaving the emptiness as ‘park’. On my walk, the trees told me this. They also told me another story, a story of the nature of trees, and perhaps all other living things. But before getting into that, I would like to explore the nature of all living things.


Many writers, poets, and musicians, to name a few, have reached out to the idea that the natural world is alive. Not alive in the typical sense that we think of trees as being alive – because they grow, move, and change – but rather they are alive, like you and I. To even begin to talk about this I could not, rather I would recommend picking up David Abram’s book, ‘The Spell of the Sensuous,’ to understand the animation of nature. So I would like to broaden the scale and mention mother earth.


I have often thought that the earth was alive – a living organism if you will. To best understand what I mean by this I would like to offer two alternative ways of thinking: scale and extraterrestrial organisms. Through reworking the way we think about scale we may rework the way we think of the cosmos. Let us walk into a scale that is almost unfathomable to human kind: the universe.


Writer Gaston Bachelard in the ‘Poetics of Space’ describes a writing by Pierre-Maxime Schuhl, about an apple’s core, more importantly its seed, as the sun of the apple: the energy giving entity. By describing it in this way, we are analytically able to apply a scale to a known object of relation to understand the incomprehensible, in a sense allowing our imagination to see a true scale. In doing so we experience the unexperiencable, taken to a scale unknown to ourselves, our imagination takes over and everything becomes real in a moment of clarity.

Platonic dialectics of large and small do not suffice for us to become cognizant of the dynamic virtues of miniature thinking. One must go beyond logic in order to experience what is large in what is small…he entered into a miniature world and right away images began to abound, then grow, then escape.”

Bachelard p. 150,154

Let’s take this a step further. Take our example of the seed of the apple as the sun. In this case, a separate universe is created by a change of scale. Apply this to humans. For a moment, allow yourself to be taken to another place; to suspend all disbelief. This is not to imply that we literally are neurons in the brain of the earth, but rather it offers a new way of thinking. The earth is literally a living organism, albeit different from what the current schools of thought are about life.


A change of scale is a change of logic.


To better illustrate this point let’s look at extraterrestrial organisms: aliens.


If aliens do exist in a place so far away in the universe, it is almost sacrilegious to be so selfish to our life-systems to think that they might breath oxygen, drink water, or have blood. Most scientists agree that if we are to come in contact with an alien species that the organism will seem so different from collective human knowledge and experience that we may not even recognize it as alive. Perhaps the earth is like this. If it is possible, and deemed likely, that ‘life’ in the universe may be so diverse as to almost not comprehend it, why are we as a species so quick to disregard the earth as something ‘living’. The earth moves, it grows, it reacts to outside forces, it defends itself. I believe the earth is alive. I believe that the trees on my walk are merely another living piece of this larger living organism. The trees told me this too.


While on my walk I spent some time with the trees, in a barren urban ‘man-made’ environment we call Cleveland, Ohio, in a country we call the United States. The trees appeared lifeless, the whole area looked dead. No birds soared over the lake. No animals climbed the trees. No people walked by. The park, along with the trees appeared to be devoid of life, but they watched me. I felt their presence.


As I walked along the surface of the earth and watched these trees, I also became the watchee. They welcomed me, trusted me, and spoke to me. They breath like me. They listen to the weather and climate. They shed their leaves as a direct response to what the weather tells them. Although they looked dark, grim, and even dead, they perhaps were more alive than ever, in their most vulnerable state. Perhaps I offer this first writing as an abstract to say that the world around us is alive and listening, we only need to remember how to speak with it. Even in the industrial wasteland of the lake shore of Cleveland, we still have much we can experience with nature, even on a walk like this. Listen as the trees whisper.

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