Against the Elements documents a little known, and exceptionally rare maritime dwarf beech forest of which less than ten exist worldwide. This forest overlooking Long Island Sound occupies a small number of bluffs and steep sand hills with accompanying ravines that run perpendicular to the shore. In some areas the beeches grow down the face of the bluffs reaching the beach. The hills themselves are unusual both for their orientation to the water and their steepness, with some being extremely narrow at the top. In a few spots large boulders known as glacial erratics were left by the ice sheet that formed Long Island and add to the dramatic landscape that serves as an engaging backdrop to the trees. Other erratics appear on the beach and in the water, tying these disparate realms together.

The dwarf beech trees are stunted, gnarled, and often wildly contorted due to their exposure to salt spray, blowing sand, and harsh winter winds and their growth in sandy soil that lacks the rich nutrients normally essential to the flourishing of the American Beech. In some cases the trees must initially grow sideways before reaching upward. The forest floor is littered with countless branches; casualties of these difficult conditions. Even though this ecosystem is seemingly inhospitable to the beeches, the trees have survived and indeed thrived to become the dominant species in a forest that also contains red maple, hickory, black oak, and pitch pine. The small stature of the beeches belies the fact that some of the longest living are well over a century old.

Wandering amongst the dwarf beeches in this living sculpture garden I sense that the trees are stoically displaying their individual and collective struggles and triumphs against the elements.

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