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Women in Trees
Dispatch from Writing with the Seasons - September 2023
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“I'd like to get away from earth awhile / And then come back to it and begin over.”
— Robert Frost
These lines are from Frost’s ‘Birches.’ A poem full of lift and movement, with trees that ‘bend from left to right’ and ‘trunks arching in the woods.’ Frost imagines boys playing in the birches, and remembers his own childhood ‘as a swinger of branches.’
Whenever I read the poem, I can’t help imagine a woodland filled with people in trees, climbing and looking up at the sky. The ground may eventually call them, but for now they’re aloft.
So I was delighted to discover photographer Jochen Rais’ project: a collection of black-and-white images of women in trees, all discovered in German fleamarkets.
Each photograph was taken between 1920 and 1950. Woman smile into the camera, standing, sitting and hanging upside down from branches. Some are barefoot, some in their smartest clothes. Some are with friends, others alone.
There’s joy and playfulness here, a sense of freedom. Defiance and transgression. And a darkness. These found photos are from Germany in the lead up to and during World War II. We don’t know the background or fate of any of these women.
My favourites are the ones in which women are camouflaged by the trees, bodies blending with bark. Unlike young boys, an adult woman isn’t expected to be in a tree, but here she is! What knowledge will she gain? What if she refused to come down?
Writing prompt: Write about a woman who climbs a tree. Why? What happens next? You could use these fascinating images as a starting point.
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