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Sometimes it works out that everything in the issue relates to the theme, and this is one of those times. While I was laying out the Autumn 2017 Haigaonline, the instructions I wrote for Spring 2018's Tree Challenge asked that submissions be “not just generic trees but a particular tree that has been special in your life”. The thought that prompted me was that—unlike field grass, chaparral or bedding annuals that we encounter in large plantings, trees are large, often stand as single specimens, and live long enough that wind, cold, lightning strike and animal damage shape them as individuals. Readers responded, bringing their own associations to the challenge. The result is an issue that includes a wide variety of tree species, the ways we humans use and interact with them, and, quite simply, the essence of "treeness".
Increatingly, research indicates that trees are sentient beings. They respond to light, gravity, sounds and smells. They sleep, communicate with one another, and can defend themselves and their progeny. Ancient humans sensed this, for tree spirits are widespread in animistic mythologies. As late as the thirteenth century Northern Europe had forests that dated from the end of the Ice Age, and tree species such as oak, ash or yew can still retain a pagan aura of sacredness. Best known among Greek myths anmay be the nymph Daphne who was transformed into a laurel tree, but there are also the dryads of the oaks—similar to kodama in Japan.
As always, the issue’s theme was my chance to delve into the subject of trees in Japanese old master haiku and art: Saigyō's willow and the Karasaki pine, both of which had been drawing the attention of poets from the twelfth century through Basho. I became especially interested in the pine, whose sprawling, pole-propped limbs had been depicted by both Hokusai and Hiroshige:
In another direction, I turned to Issa . He too wrote about the Karasaki pine, but I was more interested to read what he might have said about more ordinary trees of everyday life.
In much research, I also gathered this sampler of tree poems by other old masters:
I had hoped to find a signature haiku for the theme of this issue. I never did, and opted finally to riff on the "summer grove" kigo in Busson's hokku. in a way, it draws together all the poems in the issue. For the graphics, I've chosen from trees that populate in prints by Hokusai. Click on our Contributors page for image sources.
Many thanks to our resident staff, and all the authors and artists who contributed to the issue. Without you, Haigaonline would not be possible.