'Ancient Trees': from Botswana to Yemen, some of the world's oldest trees

A 14-year quest yields thoughtful, dignified portraits of ancient trees.

Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time By Beth Moon Abbeville Publishing Group 104 pp.

Like many new photographers just starting out, I used to take my Pentax film camera out and about to photograph lovely old trees. The images were nice but unremarkable, and I came to see them as a phase to outgrow as my eye developed.

The images Beth Moon created with her Pentax 6.7 film camera, however, transformed a common photographic attraction to old trees into a project with weight and lasting beauty. Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time is the result of Moon’s 14-year quest to photograph some of the world’s oldest trees.

Moon covers a wide swath of the world, documenting trees from the quiet yews in Britain to the wild dragon tree in Socotra, Yemen. Some are lovely, and some, like the mighty baobabs of Botswana, seem, as Moon describes, “more like creatures than trees.”

Many of the trees have interesting histories of one kind or another (chronicled in notes in the back by Moon), like the solitary oak in England’s Windsor Forest, a place said to be haunted by a wandering ghost so legendary it was mentioned by Shakespeare. There is also a fig tree in Santa Barbara, Calif., that survived a trip by boat from Australia, to be planted in its new home by a local girl in 1876. And one enormous (82 feet in circumference) baobab tree in Botswana has served as both a navigation beacon and post office.

But regardless of the trees’ pasts or associations with humans, Moon’s images allow the trees to speak for themselves. “Ancient Trees” provides the kind of thorough and thoughtful portrait that each of these majestic long-lived survivors deserves.

Ann Hermes is a Monitor staff photographer.

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