One of my favorite movie scenes in recent memory comes from Terrence Malick’s film The Tree of Life. It’s a montage scene, cutting through various images of the young protagonist Jack growing up and finding his place in the world of 1950s Waco, Texas. He helps his mother in the garden. He goes trick-or-treating. He climbs a tree and rolls around a field with his friends. These are all small, personal moments, but shot in a way that gives them a cosmic grandeur. Malick’s camera shoots everything from a low, child’s-eye-view angle, putting the viewer at the same physical and emotional level as Jack. The use of Bedřich Smetana’s voluptuous symphonic poem “The Moldau” further enhances the smallness of the viewer and the bigness of the little town on screen.
What I find so powerful about this scene is how it so acutely captures and translates the state of wonder we feel as children when we encounter the unknown, even though those unknowns have since become banal. In “Nature Walks,” I attempt to do a similar thing as Malick – bringing each listener back to his or her own youthful experiences of discovery through a musical expression of my own. Each movement is named for a different place where I experienced nature in a very powerful way as a young child – the forested nature preserve behind my preschool, the humble stream than ran through the woods behind my grammar school. The movements begin with a very soft and simple idea – an image of how we see our places of childhood discovery today – before gradually morphing into a gesture that suggests a grand vista more indicative of a Bierstadt painting of the Rockies than a faded photo of a favorite park. The scope of this musical journey is not measured in miles across a rugged landscape, but in years. It’s an inner journey that brings us back for a fleeting instant to a time when the expanse of the universe could be felt in the sight of a single tree.