“Death reveals a lot about life and the way it’s lived,” says Eric Knapp, an ecologist for the National Forest Service.
Eric’s proclamation is a culmination of thoughts and emotions that developed over the course of a two-year project that melded science with art. The project, “Life Uprooted,” is a photographic exploration of the North State, featuring the root systems of ponderosa pines.
Eric rescued 35, 6- to 8-foot root systems from a National Forest Service storage yard. The roots had been excavated for an experiment to determine carbon dioxide levels in the trees' underground systems. Eric stripped the bark, exposed the grain and oiled the wood to reveal its natural patterns. The roots are pieces of art in their own right.
But the art doesn’t stop there. A year of stripping and polishing tree roots is a lot of time to convince others that hauling the tree roots around the state and photographing them is a good idea. “I had to convince other people of the (worthwhile) folly of it,” Eric said. “I convinced three of my friends that this was a cool thing.”
Eric and his recruits, colleagues Carol Shestak, Neil Flagg and Stacey Weller, rented a 24-foot moving van and hauled up to 25 of Eric’s roots at a time to Moonstone Beach, Modoc County’s Surprise Valley and a gold-rush era Old Shasta cemetery. The result: three series of stunning photographs, each evoking its own variation on Eric’s theme.
In the Surprise Valley series, the roots stand firmly in a desolate space, offering no sense of scale. They appear as giants, the only structure with the strength to withstand the imagined devastation-before-the-calm that passed through their landscape. In contrast, in the cemetery series, the roots are alive, navigating in the air as they would underground. They are perfectly at home in an unexpected life-giving place.
Eric, who grew up surrounded by both artists and scientists, appreciates that he is “in contact with people who study trees in a different way.” They were able to share his vision that the roots deserved more than rotting in a Forest Service yard. He’s equally appreciative for the opportunity to literally strengthen his own roots, make some real friends and connect with the North State, his home of six years that he feels he only knows superficially.
Eric is also happy that “Life Uprooted” was a catalyst for “geeky science folks” to be inspired. Since the project, Neil has been experimenting with light and video and is planning a “Life Uprooted” finale.
In September, the team will travel to the Burning Man festival and display the roots illuminated by electroluminescent wire, courtesy of Neil. At the end of the festival, the team will burn them in a final tribute to the trees, their newfound friendships and their journey.
“It’s fun to see the vision I had in my head come to fruition,” says Eric about “Life Uprooted.” But it seems that Eric developed a lot more than an appreciation for the patterns and cross bonds in the wood of newly-stripped trees.
He solidified some relationships, got better acquainted with his North State home and came to grips with the inevitable twists and turns of living life.
See “Life Uprooted” a photographic series by Eric Knapp, Carol Shestak, Neil Flagg and Stacey Weller, through May at Maritime Seafood and Grill, 1600 California St., Redding. Meet the “Life Uprooted” team at a reception for the artists, this Sat., May 14, 6 to 9 p.m., during Redding’s 2nd Saturday ArtHop.
View the location of the "Life Uprooted" ArtHop Photo Exhibit in a larger map.
Adam Mankoski enjoys experiencing and writing about the people, places and things that embody the free spirit of the State of Jefferson. He and his partner own HawkMan Studios and are the creators of Redding's 2nd Saturday ArtHop. Email your North State weekend events to [email protected].
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.