The Family Tree
© Atala Dorothy Toy
The Family Tree
A kind elderly nature spirit who both smiles and frowns, a cat enduring its human’s kiss and a guardian spirit watching all who approach are some of the many images carved on all sides of this old tree. Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oakbrook, Illinois.
This tree was planted back in the 1920s, when the Chicago-area Mayslake Peabody Estate was built. It was center to the back lawn that swept down from the manor to the lake and provided fragrant spring flowers and cooling summer shade.
This photo was taken the last year the venerable tree was on earth. Estate caretakers nurtured it for many years and the signs of neatly pruned branches exist on all its sides. It finally passed away of old age and was accorded a respectful departure.
Its sweet, gentle spirit is epitomized by its very large face, low on the tree. It offers a friendly greeting to all who enter from the parking lot and path onto the back lawn.
This is a spirit who enjoys seeing families at play and adults relaxing and spreads that energy throughout its domain. Its welcoming face has two mouths with two different expressions. One is a sweet crooked smile. Below that is a sad downturned mouth. This shows different aspects of the spirit’s personality.
The Picasso Perspective
It is amazing how these trees can pack so much information on such a limited canvas. I marvel at how in tune Picasso was with this way of observing the universe. So many of his tradition-breaking figures have this same organic structure – multiple views in one figure or painting revealing different aspects of a story.
Below to the nature spirit’s right is a small rodent of some sort – a companion to the tree, and a life form the tree spirit must have watched dash freely about the lawn and woods.
Midway up the trunk one sees a very strong-featured cat looking forward, tolerating in best cat style the smooches bestowed on him by a portly human, seen side view. I’m sure at some point in the past a house cat was a regular visitor to the tree, complaining about all the human affection it needed to endure!
I like the lookout spirit top right. One eye is focused squarely on the path into the yard. The spirit is checking out all who enter his terrain!
A fine coating of yellow lichen adds the finishing touch to the images.
Far in the distance are glimmers of the lake, through the winter trees.
A version of this photograph is in the Mayslake Peabody Estate’s permanent art collection.
Some Ways to Connect with Us
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