Alison Sudol’s ‘The Story of Pines’: A Fable of an Almost Treeless World
The remarkable degrees to which trees nourish our lives should not be taken for granted. They lend us shade and they foil erosion. They sanitize our air. They even fight crime. And they’re everywhere—our spinning blue marble is home to 400 billion trees, give or take. But how often do we truly pay attention to the trees that cloak our boulevards or canvas our hillsides?
What if you awoke one fine misty morning, gazed out the window, and saw that every single tree had vanished—save one forlorn, cliff-dwelling pine?
This is the basic setup for The Story of Pines, a charming new stop-motion animated short film produced by Participant Media and co-written by singer-songwriter Alison Sudol, of A Fine Frenzy. The film premieres on TakePart TV on Tuesday, October 2 (see the trailer below). It is a companion piece to Pines, Sudol’s third full-length studio album, which will be released exclusively on iTunes on October 9.
At the onset of the 12-minute piece, a tree named Pine learns that her forest has been laid waste. Soon thereafter she meets a bird named Bird and the two embark on an adventure in search of “then”—a new forest home.
Drawing inspiration from the redwood forests of Northern California and the Cascades in Washington state, Sudol crafted the screenplay in response to the acceleration of the pace of life in the 21st century. “Things that I can’t gain perspective on in my own life suddenly make sense out there in the woods,” says Sudol.
In advance of the release of the film, I caught up with the self-made musician for a lovely chat on a wide range of topics, including anthropomorphism, her favorite children’s books, and why she believes that pine trees are “incredibly dignified.”
TakePart: Story of Pines seems to me to be a fable rooted in a deeply personal story. How has the natural world inspired your work?
Alison Sudol: Well, the natural world is just one of the richest sources of inspiration there is. For me to look at my own life and actually see what’s there, sometimes is actually quite difficult—it’s hard to look at it because it’s so close. A lot of times, I look at nature and I find parallels there. Things that I can’t gain perspective on in my own life suddenly make sense out there in the woods. And then there’s also just the sense of calm I get from being in un-peopled surroundings.
TakePart: You could have made the tree in this fable any type. But you chose a pine…why?
Alison Sudol: I think when I first started writing this, I didn’t really have any reason except I was drawn to pine trees. Then as I started to write the record and get a little bit deeper into it, I realized that for my whole life, I have basically spent a large portion of it pining for things.
I think pine trees are incredibly dignified. They’re approachable. They’re warm. They’re just lovely, lovely trees.
TakePart: Do you think we as a society have lost “then”? And if so, how do we find it?
Alison Sudol: No, I don’t think we’ve lost “then.” I think we’ve lost connection to a different pace of life. We’ve lost connection to the natural world, which you used to not be able to get away from. But at the same time, as in the film, you can’t actually go back to “then.” You have to make a new present, a new beginning. And I think that we need to find what that is for us.
TakePart: The film is a fable. What children’s books or fables influenced you growing up?
Alison Sudol: I loved The Velveteen Rabbit and I loved Winnie the Pooh. I loved Runaway Bunny. I loved Shell Silverstein…and of course I loved Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables.
TakePart: And some of that stuff is in Pines, echoes of it at least.
Alison Sudol: As an artist, everything you’ve seen and done and read and felt and tasted…it all goes into that inspiration jar and then you shake it up.
TakePart: The film stars a talking tree and a talking bird. In other words, it is very anthropomorphic. Do you feel environmental issues would gain more traction in this country if, say, climate change was somehow anthropomorphized?
Alison Sudol: I think so, but I think there’s a sense when you anthropomorphize things that you are making them silly or it’s a childish thing to do. It’s make-believe. But I think that one of the advantages of fables—of talking animals—if you will, is that you do look at things from a different perspective. “Wow, that tree took 200 years to grow, but I’m going to chop it down in 20 seconds”—why do people do this? I wish they’d just pause for a second.
TakePart: After folks finish watching this film, what’s next? What action would you hope they take?
Alison Sudol: It’s going to be different for every person. What I hope to have happen is to have people thinking, “What could I do?” And look into their communities and find out how they can be involved in fighting deforestation. A large part of this film is that it can seem that nothing can change; it can seem like you’re at a dead end. But anything can change—like it did for Pine. Sometimes it will be a difficult journey, but no matter what, it is never the end. You can always learn how to begin again.
Have you ever planted a tree? Share your planting story with us in the comments below.