Look at the bark of a redwood, and you see moss. If you peer beneath the bits and pieces of the moss, you’ll see toads, small insects, a whole host of life that prospers in that miniature environment. A lumberman will look at a forest and see so many board feet of lumber. I see a living city. — Sylvia Earle
Meet the female Ornamental Tree Trunk Spider, one of many such residents of a living city. You can easily miss this little beauty, which can be well camouflaged against the bark it rests on. Interestingly, the “living city” is a bunch of dead cells! The outer bark is the layer protecting the inner tissues and the living parts within a tree.
Every bark is so different from the other. For example, the rough texture of the Crocodile Bark tree (Saaj or Matti or Sadar) is helping the Monitor Lizard stay put.
I had once gone on a survey inside the forest along with a guide who is a Jenu Kuruba tribal and an expert on trees. He told me how the Matti stores water inside and how they would collect it, to quench their thirst in summers! The bark has a characteristic pattern, in case you are still wondering how the tree gets its name. It is a fascinating pattern, one of my favorites and hence, gets to the top of my list of the art of bark.
While an entire tree is magnificent, every part of it is even more magical, like the bark, which presents art in its patterns. I observe it as a pastime, or when we are waiting for something else. While waiting for a tiny bird to come back to its tree-home, a bark design caught my eye in Gir forest. Our guide identified it as the Guggul tree. Its gummy resin (gum guggulu) is commonly used during Poojas. They typically use it over hot coal, similar to how we use Sambrani. Wiki says Guggul is over-harvested, to the extent of getting an entry in the IUCN Red List. While we were in Bidar, we saw Boswellia serrata belonging to the same fragrant family as that of Guggul. I touched the tree and my fingers stuck to each other, because of the fragrant resin (used in Dhoopa).
I continued my queries to our pan-chewing guide.
“Which tree is this one, bhaiyya? The texture is quite similar to that of the Crocodile Bark tree, but this one is slimmer 🙂”
“Oh, this is the Tendu tree. They use the leaves of the Tendu to make beedi. The langurs and the deer feed on the berries which taste very much like the chikoo.” Yummy! I quickly took a couple of images of Tendu, also known as Coromandel Ebony or East Indian Ebony (Diospyros melanoxylon). I uploaded it on our Flickr page with a CC-by-nc-sa license, as usual. An indie game developer found it, when trying to find some reference pics for tree texture! He embedded a cropped and heavily edited version of this image inside a game, which took part in an online “game jam” organized by the Oculus VR company and IndieCade. Can you spot the Tendu in this video of the game being played:youtu.be/kQ6yBjmRGJQ?
Our Tendu went gaming 🙂 But that wasn’t all. Sasan Gir, Gujarat, had more in store for us. It was a joy to just sit in the forest and listen to the silence. But we were snapped out of our reverie. It was a scream; a teak tree’s scream. The pattern reminded us of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream”. The expression, the positioning of the eyes, the hands, the mouth – all eerily similar. Was the teak speaking for all other trees ?
Over time, more patterns have caught my eye. While in Bharatpur, it was my turn to scream, “STOP!” The rickshaw driver and guide were stunned, as I ran back to take a picture. Our guide ran behind me, thinking I had seen something rare. Well, I did. I saw a teardrop pattern on the bark of a Babool tree. Or maybe it looks like something else also. I am sure he had teardrops in his eyes, kicking himself for running after me, and trying to figure out whether I had gone nuts 😉
A tree at Lepakshi seemed to show the sign of the horns; Rock and Roll or The Devil’s Horns or maybe just the finger.
There is all this and much more in just a bark. You only need to see. You might see abstract art of the bark or you might see a living city.