I began this cut paper collage piece a few springs ago, during a Tree PLAYshop held here at Kerry Farm. I finally returned to it this spring.
As I was cutting and gluing tiny willow leaves, I thought of all the different tree PLAYshops I have enjoyed through the years. Some have been wild and free (well, only one!) with the others being more contemplative. All have involved spending time in and amongst trees. Most have involved creating an art piece. Each has celebrated the unique bonds between humans and trees.
The first tree PLAYshop had a curious origin. I was deeply disturbed by the bulldozing of an aspen bluff I had come to know well. Well enough to search for the yellow lady slippers that appeared beneath the aspen each spring, well enough to remember the doe and fawn I surprised one morning, well enough to remember the suspended moments a red tailed hawk and I were held each other’s gaze. I was so upset I phoned the landowner. He was respectful for the most part. At the end of the call, though, he said, “I think it’s good you got this off your chest.” Little does he know, but it’s been on and in my chest/heart ever since.
The destruction of those trees was the reason for the first tree PLAYshop. I mourned those lost trees actively but wondered if I appreciated the live trees in my midst as much as I might. I set out to actively cultivate more intentional friendships with trees, to learn more about them. If I could entice others to join me, we could have a tree PLAYshop. This continued exploration of trees has enlivened my world, affected reading choices, made me the happy recipient of articles, art, and books about trees, and allowed me to continue to exercise my tree climbing muscles. It has inspired me to create art about my relationship with trees. “Willow Dreaming” is the fifth tree inspired piece, and I will share the previous four at the bottom of this post.
I am a willow dreamer from way back. We had a stately weeping willow in our backyard by the Rideau River. I climbed her often, loving the seeming curtains of leaves and branches. A hide away. Once at the top, you could see for a long ways. This willow was the site of the Foxy Five’s Tree House. The Foxy Five was a club we girls made up when we were nine or ten. We enjoyed many adventures in the willow and beyond.
When I moved to Kerry Farm, there was a large willow by the dugout. She was a popular hangout for our daughters. They would canoe across the dug out with a picnic. They built a fort, hung a tire from a branch, and had many adventures in this grand willow. I tried to stay clear as I recognized this tree as a “kid’s only” kind of place. Once the girls left home, however, I often visited the willow tree. Over the years and as I shared her with others, she became known as Grandmother Willow.
My children built a (very dangerous) perch on a branch hanging low over the water. During one tree PLAYshop, I watched a young girl nimbly climb to the end of the branch, and sit, precariously and happily, in this spot. My heart was in my throat the entire time, but I couldn’t resist spirit of the dare devil. Although the girl in my collage is quite safe in the tree, it was the dare devil girl who originally inspired this collage.
Lying comfortably on this willow, looking down at the water, completely at one with all of the elements, noticing the dance of ripples on the water, the movement of willow leaves all around, feeling absolutely safe and held is some of what I hoped to capture in this piece. I have a question: Does the willow dream of the girl? Or does the girl dream of the willow? Or, perhaps, both.
I have been enjoying reading accounts of people who have taken up a creative pursuit during the pandemic. In some cases, they are people in the latter half of their lives. I have particularly enjoyed watching some young people for whom creating art during the pandemic has been lifesaving and who are sharing their creations via social media. The time and space to create art has been one of the blessings of living in an otherwise limited world.
A dozen years ago, I enrolled in what is now called the Prairie Jubilee Experience. Back then it had a much longer title. My own desire at the time was to explore my spiritual life more intentionally and with some guidance along the way. This was exactly what I needed at the time. One of the unintended benefits of taking part in this two year course was that creative expression of all kinds was encouraged. We could write papers or we could hand in a painting (or a video of a dance). Throughout my life, I always found one way or another to express myself creatively, but this opportunity opened up new possibilities for me. Ultimately, I felt led to spend more and more time creating art, and to share my love of artistic expression and nature with others.
Once the course was done, however, I wasn’t quite sure how to move art into a more central place in my daily life. I could paint or create a collage in response to a spiritual question, but what would I paint without such a prompt? I decided to begin with what was right in front of me, to spend a little time each day painting the amaryllis that was growing in our window sill.
Here are some of those early watercolour sketches.
It was a great delight to observe subtle changes in the amaryllis each day. I didn’t know it then, but painting was one way to “befriend a flower”. The energy of the amaryllis astounded me. Each day, there was marked progress. All of this was happening at the same time as much inner growth was happening inside me. Then, one day, I had an epiphany. I thought I had chosen the amaryllis as my subject, but in fact, the amaryllis had chosen me. I felt there was an amaryllis inside me, reaching for the light and growing just like the one I was painting.
Since that epiphany, I have learned that what I choose as subject matter is seldom random or arbitrary. Very often I am inspired by the very plant, or hill, or tree or colour that I need as teacher or medicine. I discover this as I paint or cut and glue papers to create an image.
It’s the beginning of March, and the feel of spring is in the air.
Secret Wish: I am holding out for a blizzard or two, as we need more moisture in Southeastern Saskatchewan.
Just before we move into spring, I will share these photos of the grasses, leaves of Grandmother Willow and that noxious weed, Baby’s Breath, as they are found in around the Kerry Farm Ice Rink, and inside the ice of some lanterns (now melted). I love them all. I love how their forms are expressed in ice, that temporal art form.
Early in December I was invited to take a meditative walk and see if something in the natural world caught my attention. What I especially noticed was how many Saskatoon berries were still on the bush. Most were dried like raisins. I ate a handful and found them full of taste. What a sweet surprise, I thought…after all, the birds, the squirrels, the bears and we humans ate our fill of Saskatoons in the summer, and yet, there were still some left over!! What abundance! How marvellous – to savour this summer taste as the days grow darker!
A few weeks later, Robin Wall Kimmerer, published “The Service Berry: An Economy of Abundance” in Emergence Magazine. Wouldn’t you know it? The service berry is also called the Saskatoon berry! This excellent essay celebrates the abundance and gift of this “best of the berries”. Wall Kimmerer also explores gratitude, reciprocity and the gift economy using the Saskatoon bush as guide and teacher.
This essay struck me as beautiful medicine for the next decade, as well as a call to action or perhaps (worded differently) – an invitation to respond creatively and “live into” the community Robin Wall Kimmerer envisions. While some of us are anxious to return to “normal”, I think many of us would qualify “normal”. The pandemic has enabled us to see ever more clearly how our culture of excess has not served us well, and how it has favoured some at the expense of so many others and so much else (including care of the earth). Robin Wall Kimmerer is a wise visionary and leader, who so clearly articulates the need for a change in our priorities and direction. She does so poetically. Even better, we can read the essay or listen to her read it to us, or both!!
Here’s the invitation:
Please consider accompanying me as I read and listen to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay “The Service Berry: An Economy of Abundance” over the next few months. I have divided it into 4 sections, simply because there are many ideas here and reading over a longer period of time allows us to sink into these ideas. We will take approximately a month to read and respond to each section.
I invite you to comment on a particular quote (or quotes) that stirred something in you.
I also invite you to respond creatively, if you feel called to do so. You might feel called to respond to one section and not another. Or to all four. Or to none. All are good.
What do I mean by responding creatively? Think of some of the creative people you know – people who decorate their homes with that special touch, poets, make up artists, beaders, ice lantern makers, cooks and bakers, welders, tattoo artists, wood workers, dancers, music makers, knitters and crocheters, story tellers, leaders in ceremony, healers, potters, sewers, seamstresses and quilters, entrepreneurs, song writers, mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, graphic artists, tic toc creators, gardeners, worship leaders, cake decorators, photographers, people who dress with flair, nail artists, sculptors, gardeners, snow fort builders…the list could go on and on.
A creative response could also be an action – sharing a gift, taking care of a piece of land, nurturing a small garden, writing a letter, “paying it forward” in a way that nurtures connection. Receiving a gift could also be a creative response – for many of us receiving well is harder that giving or sharing. As Wall Kimmerer notes, we are receiving gifts all the time and sometimes we become alert or especially aware of a particular gift we have long taken for granted.
To some extent, we are already living into “an economy of abundance”. It feels to me that doing this together in response to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s essay brings a degree of intention and community which will make a difference for each of us, and perhaps ripple out.
Sharing Our Responses and Comments
Your comments and creative responses will be shared on a dedicated website (with your permission). I hope to get this website up this month (February 2021). I will send you the link to the website when it is available, and regular updates or reminders now and again. You can send your responses to me by email.
Other ways of becoming community may emerge naturally as we accompany each other in considering and living into Robin Wall Kimmerer’s ideas. If you have thoughts about how we might share our responses with each other, please send them on to me.
How To Join In
E- mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in taking part in some way or have questions. You will receive an e-mail with a link to each section we are reading, and subsequent e-mails with links sharing how people are responding.
Feel free to share this with others who may be interested.
Here is a PDF of Section 1 of the essay – Robin Wall Kimmerer SECTION 1
Here is a PDF of Section 2 of the essay – Section 2 – Reading Robin’s Essay
Here is a PDF of Section 3 of the essay – Section 3- Robin’s Essay
Here is a PDF of Section 4 of the Essay- Section 4 PDF
Years ago I made a choice to let go of my perennial garden so that I could spend more time in Pheasant Creek Coulee with the wildflowers that were already there. Flowers requiring no care at all. I felt some sadness about this choice, but have been thrilled about the time it has freed up for me. I especially love to spend very early mornings painting in the coulee once the ticks have disappeared.
This Covid summer has been no exception. In fact, life without playshops and art sales has offered me not only MORE time in the coulee, but also daily visits! What I have most noticed is how the more I get to know, the more I realize I have not noticed before. How could I have missed that, I think? I note that I miss so many things. “I see, but don’t see”. There is always a new surprise or mystery when I visit the coulee. We see and experience the natural world with strong filters. Happily, daily visits disturb some of my filters.
A great joy has been wondering about the mystery of an emerging plant – before it blooms. Who are you? What colour will you be? In the case of Showy Locoweed, it was several weeks between emerging leaves and eventual blossoms. Well worth the wait!
Now, I am appreciating the varieties of seedheads, and finding great beauty in this stage of plant life. How can the delicate pink and white bell shaped flower of Spreading Dogbane become a brilliant red pod sometimes measuring four inches long?
These last few weeks, I have perched on my stool, looking down. I am intrigued by the shapes and forms and postures of plants. I have always loved the distinctive shape of Indian Breadroot* or the particular curve of milk vetch leaves on the stem. Or the deep green of Indian Breadroot contrasted with the silvery green of wolf willow and sage.
My first painting, entitled “Underfoot” highlights the leaves of Indian Breadroot when the blossoms are dying. In the background are the fading leaves of the prairie crocus. At this time ( early July) Ascending Purple Milk Vetch (blue) is in full bloom, as are Gaillardia (yellow) and Hedysarum (pink). Broom is just coming into bloom and it’s bright fake grass green colour contrasts with the other shades of green.
“Sylvia’s Prairie” was painted over several visits the last ten days of July. Silver Leaf Psoralea ( a cousin of Indian Breadroot) is highlighted in this painting and I love how its silver leaves contrast with the green of Western Wild Bergamot (shown here without blossom). Other blooming plants include Purple Prairie Clover, Harebell, Pink Prairie Onion, and Low Goldenrod. Flax seeds and the empty rust coloured seed heads of groundsel as well as wild licorice leaves are here also.
The title of this piece came as a wonderful surprise. Once I was finished and was looking at this painting from a distance, I thought, “These are Sylvia’s (my late mum) colours.” In fact, I could imagine her wearing a shirt just like this. I was struck by how our parents are always with us, even when we have no idea they are present. Years ago, when my mum visited the prairies, she loved to smell the sage. She always picked some to freeze in a baggie, and pull out from time to time, just to breathe that distinctive prairie smell deeply. So, it fits that two types of sage are in this painting as well – women’s sage and pasture sage.
In some ways, I am pleased with “Sylvia’s Prairie”. Yet, at the same time, some dissatisfaction pushes me to explore further. I like the energy and movement in an earlier attempt to get to know Silver Leaf Psoralea (below). I begin August wanting to spend more time getting to know Silver Leaf Psoralea better by sitting with her, drawing and painting her, trying to express other dimensions of her incredible beauty and wildness.
* Indian Breadroot is also known as Prairie Turnip.
In my humble opinion, June is the best month for wildflowers. There are so many new flowers coming to blossom, it is hard to keep up. Interesting seed heads to observe from earlier plants. The leaves of plants that are coming soon have emerged. It is also a beautiful month, unlike any other for startling prairie skies. Of course, the plants bloom long after my contrived two week time periods. And yet, keeping note of the plants as they bloom has me noticing more. The more I learn, the more I notice. The more I learn, the more questions I have. What a privilege it is to walk the same hills daily, to notice the ever changing plants and shrubs as well as the birds, animals and insects.
Sources: Saskatchewan Wildflowers Website by Glenn Lee and Facebook Page of Saskatchewan Native Plants- Saskatchewan Native Plant Society
Despite the dry hills, it has been hard to keep up with all the new blooms and emerging plants this first two weeks of June. The air has been permeated with the distinctive smell of wolf willow in bloom – a prairie smell unlike any other. For most of this time, all the plants shown in my late May post (with the exception of the fruit bushes) have continued to be in bloom as well. Even though 22 plants are pictured here, there are also plants I have seen which are not included here (cut leaf anenome, wood anenome, some milk vetches among them) and plants that I have missed altogether. Keeping this record is helpful to me. I notice more.
Some of the flowers shared in an earlier blog (Pheasant Creek- Early May flowers) are also shown here because they really come into their own in late May. Many of the early May flowers are earth huggers. In late May, some plants grow a little taller. Late May is also the time when Saskatoons, chokecherries, hawthornes burst into blossom and new leaves emerge. I have included some photos of both here. The new plant for me this time is right below. As I write this, my favourite coulee smell – the unforgettable scent of wolfwillow in bloom is everywhere!
(Thanks to Debra for the help!)