14 January 2008

Fractal Xylem

It's midterm week so my planned posting will have to wait. Until then, I thought I'd put this photo up. It was taken hiking down from a peak this August, just outside of Aspen; I had gotten tired of the sweeping landscapes (doesn't take long) and started getting down on my hands and knees. This was one of those photos that seemed interesting at the time, and I still like the wood grain and the edges of the outer layer of bark flowing in over an old wound. Compositionally it's not much to speak of but it struck me just this evening that the very same phenomenon I have repeatedly noticed in silhouetted trees was present here. Being from the plains, it's common to see large, isolated oaks or elms black against the winter sky, and without any leaves on it's much easier to see the tree's skeletal structure. Ever since I looked at a live chicken embryo under a microscope, the obvious similarities to microscopic vein structure in the macroscopic branching of trees has captivated me ever since.

What is so fascinating about this photo is that if you have ever looked at an alpine lake from 30,000 feet, you have seen basically the same thing as what you see here; only now, it is carved by the very tree itself into its own flesh on a thousandth of the scale.

Though the tree/blood vessel similarity is more clearly an example of one physical law at work on vastly different scales, and this is more of a coincidence than anything, nonetheless it is a marvelous phenomenon.

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