Saturday, 22 January 2022

Tree Thoughts

Trees are woven into the background fabric of my life. I remember the shady old maples that lined our driveway when we lived on our farm in Ontario. 


I remember the spreading branches of the catalpa with its heart-shaped leaves growing in the yard of our apartment in town, and the ash saplings we dug out of a friend’s woods and transported to our new home on the bumper of our little Volkswagen Beetle. I climbed trees, hung by my legs from their branches, played house in their shade, rested against their trunks as I daydreamed. For my tenth birthday, mom and dad gave me a little Golden Field Guide to the Trees. At school, we memorized Joyce Kilmer’s poem, "Trees."

Trees were always there, always lovely, always in the landscape of my life, no matter where I lived or what stage of life I was experiencing.

But one day, when I was a middle-aged woman, a speaker at a conference in Vancouver added a whole new dimension to my concept of trees. He told us about nurse logs. A nurse log, he said, is a tree that has died, and then fallen down in the forest. As it decomposes, as insects and microbes break it down, it slowly turns into soil. The chemical action of decomposition creates warmth, and much like an incubator, it creates a safe and fertile environment for new little trees to sprout and grow. 


With this lovely image, our speaker was making a point about change, which is all around us – not only in nature, but also in beliefs, institutions, even in our own personal and family lives. New growth comes from old forms that no longer live, but create an environment that nourishes the growth that comes from change. The death of these old forms is not a waste, but can become an incubator for growth.

And what’s true for trees is also true for humans.

This was an eye-opener for me, an “aha” moment. The insight was comforting, but also challenging. Change happens – that’s inevitable. So how do you use the past to promote healthy growth?

Fast forward to 14 years ago, when we moved to Vancouver Island after spending 33 years in Alberta. We were sure this is what we wanted to do, but all changes are hard. One day, feeling disconnected from everything we’d left behind, I walked in the woods and found peace in the trees. I felt gratitude for the past, but realized that in it were the seeds of our future. This began my art quilting journey. I created a little quilt to express my feelings of disconnection.


A month later, feeling more settled in my environment, I created another, featuring a healthy tree beside a flowing river, to document the journey of change. I created more tree pieces, based on what I saw on my walks in the woods. And so it went. 

This tree beside the Puntledge River was still vibrant when I created this piece in about 2010. It has since fallen down and is gone. I miss it.

Soon, there was a “tree wall” in our home, a gallery of art pieces that features trees in all kinds of formats. 

A more recent piece also features trees.  It is entitled “New Growth from Old” featuring a nurse stump (which I’ve written about before on this blog “What a Wonderful World, May 25, 2019). 


 This is another one, which I named “Three Sisters.” 


This year is a momentous year for my two sisters and me. Two of us celebrated 50 years of marriage, and the younger one celebrated 30 years. This calls for some new fibre art, and so I created three identical “Three Sisters” tree pieces, one for each of us. The nurse log at the bottom of the piece has grounded us as sisters, and has provided rich soil for our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social growth. It’s the ground of our being.

But there’s even more significance to these tree nurseries. The sibling trees grouped together create a supportive environment in which to grow. Their roots intertwine and communicate with each other. Their roots also receive distress calls from each other, and the sibling trees will adjust their feeding patterns to help the one in distress, even sending out nutrients to the struggling sibling tree.  (I’m not making this up; the latest scientific research supports this.) These trees – and we as sisters – have each others’ backs.

My journey with trees is not finished yet. Those nurse logs have not only provided a place for young trees to grow, but also inspired thoughtful growth for an older woman like me.

Friday, 7 January 2022

Postcards for a New Year

The crow woke up on the first day of the new year. “Hey, get busy,” she scolded me. “You’ve been lollygagging around long enough. Get your rear in gear.”

I didn’t need a scolding – I’ve been missing the flow of creative juices. This fall wasn’t a great time for me. Now I wanted to see what would happen if I went into the studio and just started doing something, anything at all. 

 I had a new journal - all those blank pages. I wondered if I could sketch my way through the year, or at least do something different from the boring drivel I’d jotted down in 2021 – stuff like, “leftovers for supper,” “played crib with Al and lost,” and “raining again.” Maybe I could make a fabric post card today, then sketch it and write about it in my journal.

I pulled a few pieces of fabric from my scraps – some sparkly white, a freckled blue, and a modern abstract print.  I looked out the window, and these words came to me: “Sun sparkles on snow.” It was a beginning.

An hour or so later, this was the result: a postcard with a poem stitched on the back:

Maybe it’s a bit grandiose to call it a poem, but this is what is stitched on the back: 

“Sun sparkles on snow. New paths to follow. New trails to break. Where will they take us?”

Now the juices really started flowing. Could I send the postcard to someone anonymously? Could I do more postcards? Might I do a postcard a day? Could I follow this thread and take it wherever it might go? Well, why not?

I find that when my mind is open to an idea, suddenly all kinds of words and images appear that seem to be related to that thought. Sort of like “Field of Dreams”: if you build it, they will come. If you keep your mental ears open, you will get new insights, you will see new visions.

So sure enough, on Jan 2, my friend sent me a poem related to this idea, a little ditty that she remembers reading in her autograph album (remember those!!!). It goes like this:

“The future lies before us like a field of snow,
Be careful how you tread it, for every step will show.”

Rebel that I am, I wanted to do a different take on those words.

So January 2, I produced this postcard:

The words on the back read:
“Where the path well-traveled ends is where your adventure begins. Be strong and of good courage. Take that first step and venture forth into the great unknown.”

There was no room for more writing, or I might have added, “Don’t worry what those footprints look like, they’ll probably be messy and you may go off in the wrong directions, but that’s what life is all about. It takes a lot of mistakes to figure out the right thing.”

January 3: I began thinking about how striking out on your own into uncharted territory is scary.

That’s when I read a story in the NY Times about an 85 year old man who had just recorded his first album of original music. He said, “Do something that involves other people. Even one other person. Getting out of a groove — sometimes you just need company. There’s this fantasy that creativity is something you do alone, by candlelight. No! Do something with other people who are as genuinely interested as you are.”

He’s right – knowing that I will share these postcards with others here in this blog and perhaps in the mail or in a show is part of the joy of creating. So here is postcard #3:

The back side records the words of a well-known song: “Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.”

January 4: As I was sipping my morning coffee, I read the following poem in Mary Oliver’s book Devotions:

Oh, what fun! Dancing crows – yes! If you’re having an adventure, do it with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

Here’s postcard #4 – from my studio to your computer, and wishing you a grand adventure as you step into the unknown in 2022.