The Duplicative Forest

Atlas Obscura points our attention to a site in Oregon known as the “duplicative forest.”

[Image: The Duplicative Forest—17,000 acres of identical trees—awaits; photo courtesy of Atlas Obscura].

The poplar trees growing at this 17,000-acre farm are “all the same height and thickness,” we read, “and evenly spaced in all directions. The effect is compounded when blasting by at 75 mph. If you look for too long the strobe effect may induce seizures.”

While this latter comment is clearly a joke, it would actually be quite interesting to see if optical regulations are ever needed for the spacing of roadside objects. If, for instance, the Duplicative Forest really did induce seizures in motorists—but only those driving more than 90 mph, say—thus exhibiting neurological effects, what sorts of spatial rules might need to be implemented? Every sixth tree could be planted off-grid, for instance, in a slight stagger away from the otherwise mesmerizing patterns, or the speed limit could be rigorously enforced using bumps—in which case you would know that, just over the horizon of your car’s speedometer, a strange world of neurobiological self-interference looms, as the world around you threatens cognitive failure in those passing through it at a high enough speed or intensity.

Want to find out for yourself? Consider doing a drive-by.

On an only vaguely related note, meanwhile, fans of Fredric Jameson might recall his spatial analysis of Alfred Hitchcock’s absolutely excellent film North by Northwest—specifically Hitchcock’s use of rhythmically placed, identical trees.

24 thoughts on “The Duplicative Forest”

  1. On a less-sublime level, you can also engineer grooves into the pavement that speak as your tires rumble across them at speed, and static persistence-of-vision roadsigns that only resolve into images if passed at the proper speed.

  2. "Every sixth tree could be planted off-grid, for instance, in a slight stagger away from the otherwise mesmerizing patterns" — or you could capitalize on shifting planting patterns and make the experience of driving by the farm an outright phase piece.

    This is a really interesting way to think about planting though, I bet there are some landscapers out there with some related anecdotes to share.

    It is kind of worth noting that while a mild mannered human passing this farm *might* have a seizure, a mega-intellect protagonist like Sherlock Holmes would instead use the distance between trees as an opportunity to calculate how quickly he was travelling… 🙂

  3. Re: calculating

    Yep. That's the type of problem my dad would make us work in the car. In the absence of a duplicative forest you have to estimate average trunk density first.

  4. The regular spacing of the trees, with the sun at a low angle, could possibly induce "flicker vertigo" in a susceptible person. This is a condition that propeller-driven aircraft pilots are warned about in their training. The flickering of the sun when seen through the blades of the spinning propeller has been known to cause disorientation and even seizures.
    But couldn't this be used to your advantage, say, if you valued your privacy and didn't want passers-by to see your palatial estate?

  5. Just use the pattern from the surface of a carbon nanotube or sheet of graphene. The interlocking hexagon/pentagon structure should prevent too much regularity and the shapes of atoms are more akin to the shapes of trees than a boxlike grid.

    the shaking off of the box-like grid structure for hexagonal patterns is what makes titanium better than steel, so why not forests?

  6. That with the neurological problems is not just a joke. My physician once told me that some people with epilepsy might be affected with sudden attacks induced by a certain frequency of visual stimulus. So a repeating line of trees at a certain speed could work just like that.

  7. Amazing. Reminds me of childhood road trips– peering out the backseat window at a field of evenly spaced crops and losing myself in the rhythms. Let's lobby congress for a proclamation asserting the certitude of geometric beauty in florae and its importance in our national landscape.

    Elsewhere in Oregon, the landscape is losing its natural symmetry in great chunks to fund public schools:

  8. Found this following the link back from my Flickr photo!

    Yeah, that tree farm is truly amazing. I photograph it everytime we drive by which is usually once a year on our way from Portland to my folks' house in Montana for the holidays. It's quite off the beaten path.

    Would love to do a tour one day and run through the trees. There's something about organic elements forced into a pattern that is especially mesmerizing.

  9. I definitely recall an urban legend about a road in France where a number of crashes occurred regularly until they stripped out some trees from the roadside forest. Allegedly it was due to the strobing effect of low winter sun through the trees causing drivers to have seizures. I have no idea if this is true. It's probably from a film/book/dream etc.

  10. Here's an columnist from New Scientist 1973 talking about strobe-stop-frame-animation on trains (columns 2 and 3):
    "… a series of posters each three feet wide would flash by a 40mph train at a convenient cinema-framing rate of nearly 20 a second… If the train lighting were replaced by large electronic-flash lamps triggered to fire just as each poster was opposite a train-window, then the travellers would have the illusion of continuous lighting while seeing through the windows 20 posters a second in perfect cine…"

    This is now implemented on the Heathrow-Paddington shuttle trains in London. As two trains pass each other in tunnels, LED panels on the outside of each light up and to provide a flickering, floating screen that relays some sort of banking advertisement. However:

    "… as the flash-rate slowed through about 10 a second, where strobe-lighting tends to usurp the brain's alpha rhythm, passengers might experience temporary epileptic disorientation…"

    When the Channel Tunnel between UK and France opened up there was an urban legend that the lighting had to be spaced out in importantly irregular sequences so that the drivers in the cab wouldn't have seizures or be hypnotised. I can't find any corroboration except this article from 2002, which suggests the problem came from the regular spacing of pillars:

    "The Eurostar cab allows only a small field of vision, to prevent peripheral vision distraction, including a potential strobe effect from the power lines’ pillars."

  11. I've driven by it many times, and am always struck by the regularity of it all. What's most interesting, though, is that there are occasionally trees that have fallen, either from weather or intentionally, that are just leaning among the others. These spontaneous slants break up the monotony and add all kinds of excitement to the journey.

  12. At least in the UK, you aren't allowed to drive if you have a history of epilepsy due to the risk of sunlight/trees causing seizures. So it's not a joke for some people.

  13. Here in Holland you have trees lined along the roads in the empty polders (reclaimed, very flat, land). The roads are long and boring, so people drive (too) fast. Approaching an intersection the trees are planted at slightly smaller and smaller intervals, which gives drivers the illusion they are speeding up, and hence they slow down.

  14. I have driven past these trees many times and they get creepier every time I see them. They just seem wrong.

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