River Birch: A Meditation in Pastels

Essay and Paintings by Claire Blatchford

Perhaps there’s a tree you find yourself greeting as you come and go. The species, the essential gesture of this tree, the exuberant fullness of its gesture, its steady presence, knowing it through different seasons and times of day or night...wherever I’ve lived various trees have “grown” on me over time and will always remain etched in my memory.

This past year one tree in particular has held my eye and I’ve wanted to participate in her gesture, grace, and growth by trying to paint her from different angles. I don’t think of all trees as feminine, but I’ve got three granddaughters and one grandson and so am aware of differing energies, this charmer feels to me like a young girl! She’s a River Birch who was given to us about seven years ago.

Her pale bark has flakey, peeling, papery orange-brown scales. She has three forks from the base, each about 30-35 feet in height (mature River Birches in our area grow to 50 or 60 feet) each bearing dark brown or black twigs, lighter branches, oval leaves with double-toothed edges, and green drooping catkins in the spring. We don’t have a river nearby but she’s clearly thriving, overseeing our gardens, the bird traffic and the human traffic that goes up and down our driveway, the shifting winds and clouds, and the great open night sky we get on this hill top.

    Some times her skin glows orange…


 Directly beneath her, looking up, you can feel her flowing into the sky.


 Here she is in her spring frock among the rocks that keep her company.


In conversation with the reeds….24327(1)

She wore a gorgeous dress last autumn. The tree book says River Birch leaves are a dull yellow in the fall—hers were far from dull!24662(1)







There’s a dip and a sway to her branches. I believe trees grow to music—a music we can’t hear with our ears but can sometimes hear through our eyes. I see a symphony!IMG_0975(1)