The Brooklyn Botanical Garden

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden

New York’s train/subway system makes it so easy to get around.  I took the No. 2 train to the stop at the Brooklyn Museum Station, which was just a few yards from the Eastern Parkway entrance to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.  The garden was a green oasis of quiet on a November day, such a contrast to the busy city streets.  Some trees still held on to their colorful fall foliage, and I couldn’t help but tuck away a few fallen leaves to take back to the apartment and use as models for more watercolor sketches.  I swear I am like a squirrel driven to forage before winter!  (I had to make sure I removed my stash of leaves and acorns from the apartment before I left, or my niece would have wondered if a squirrel had come in through the windows while she was away.)

The well-ordered gardens and paths, conservatories, pools, and arbors provided restful vistas for the eyes.  Lots of photo opportunities here.

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Cut-leaf beech

Cut-leaf beech

London plane tree

London plane tree

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In the Steinhardt Conservatory

In the Steinhardt Conservatory

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From the special bonsai exhibit

From the special bonsai exhibit

“When I design each individual tree, I try to communicate the spirit of that tree and, hopefully, evoke the imagery of a special, natural environment.”
–Curator of the Bonsai Exhibit, Julian Velasco

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Watercolor sketch of scarlet oak and ginkgo leaves

Watercolor sketch of scarlet oak and ginkgo leaves

Watercolor sketch of front and back of fallen leaf

Watercolor sketch of front and back of fallen leaf

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves of NYC

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves of NYC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An amazing range of colors in these fallen oak leaves

An amazing range of colors in these fallen oak leaves

“The leaves came down one by one like great golden flakes; there was no motion in the air to loosen them; their hour had come, and they gave up life easily and gracefully . . . some come hurrying and tumbling down; some drop almost like clods; some come eddying and balancing down; and now and then one comes down as gracefully as a bird, sailing around in an easy spiral like a dove alighting, its edges turned up like wings, and its stems pointing downward like a head and neck.”
— John Burroughs, from The Writings of John Burroughs, “In Field and Wood”

After a few windy days in Seattle, the motion in the air caused leaves to fall in great volumes.  Some of the oak leaves from the two trees near our front sidewalk fell in clumps.  Most of the fallen oak leaves have been brown, but these newly fallen ones still retained some color.  And what a varied palette they displayed.

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Oak leaves

Oak tree

Oak tree

I hope you are not getting tired of all these autumn leaf posts.  I am still picking up leaves as I walk around, intending to paint them — I have too many awaiting their portraits, and not enough time to lose myself in the work.

“A work emboldens us for a while, and then, if we do not invigorate and reimagine our participation, it begins to enclose us and slowly starve our spirit.”
— David Whyte, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity

I do not find myself at the point Whyte describes — not yet.  I do feel rushed at times and then I’m usually not as happy with my paintings.  But I’m not ready to give up.  The pressed leaves will keep for a while, and maybe I can keep trying to capture them on paper into the winter.

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves

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Underlying pencil sketch for watercolor painting of oak leaves

Underlying pencil sketch for watercolor painting of oak leaves

Watercolor sketch of colorful oak leaves

Watercolor sketch of colorful oak leaves

 

 

Early Birds

October 23, 2013

“An hour in the morning is worth two in the afternoon.”
— attributed to William Corbett

We all know about time’s relativity. I dedicate this post to all the morning people.  You know who you are.

Watercolor sketch with quote

Tiny Acorns, Mighty Oaks

October 4, 2013

“Might oaks from tiny acorns grow.”
— English proverb

Watercolor sketch of three acorns

Watercolor sketch of three acorns

Gift for my daughter on the occasion of her 25th birthday

Gift for my daughter on the occasion of her 25th birthday

Today I’m sharing yet another watercolor painting of this season’s acorns.  I framed this sketch and presented it with a small jar of acorns to my daughter for her 25th birthday.  She’s a teacher, and I thought these small gifts would look nice on her desk at school — a reminder of her work preparing the soil for her students to thrive and grow.

 

 

 

“The thing about trees is that they know what to do.  When a leaf loses its color, it’s not because its time is up and it’s dying, it’s because the tree is taking back into itself the nutrients the leaf’s been holding in reserve for it, out there on the twig, and why leaves change color in autumn is because the tree is preparing for winter, it’s filling itself with its own stored health so it can withstand the season.  Then, clever tree, it literally pushes the used leaf off with the growth that’s coming behind it.  But because that growth has to protect itself through winter too, the tree fills the little wound in its branch or twig where the leaf was with a protective corky stuff that seals it against cold and bacteria.  Otherwise every leaf lost would be an open wound on a tree and a single tree would be covered in thousands of little wounds.”
— Ali Smith, Artful

Oak leaves beginning to change color

Oak leaves beginning to change color

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves

 

 

Why Do We Make Things?

September 17, 2013

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

I seem to be all over the map (again), wondering why I am spending my days the way I do.  Why do I take photos, again and again, of flowers and leaves, etc.? Haven’t I done that already?   Why do I spend my time creating blog posts after all these (4+) years, and would it make more sense to live my life off stage?  Especially when there are (many) days when I seem to have nothing to say?  Why am I taking up a paintbrush?  What am I trying to say, if anything, with my little watercolor sketches, such as these oak leaves and acorns?  (Maybe the value is in taking the time to see rather than in having something to say?)  But am I just replicating in paint what I am stuck with in photography?

So I maunder through the days and trust that I am learning something from the struggle.  And if I use these blog posts to natter, it is a reflection of my unsettled mind, and I hope you will bear with me.

Last week I went to a lecture entitled “Why Do We Make Things,” part of a series presented by Seattle’s Town Hall Arts & Culture.  I left after a few minutes, too antsy to listen to this panel of four artists talk about how they played in their Dad’s workshop or cut out paper dolls.  I wanted to hear some deep thoughts about the existential why.  I unfairly, perhaps, decided I wouldn’t learn anything from these artists’ personal stories.  I know I learn better from books, which I can ponder at my own pace.

This week I checked some books out of the library about the craft of writing, shaping words.  My daughter will be teaching her fifth grade students about voice, word choice, etc. and I thought I might stumble across a book or two with some ideas for her.  And I found one gem, Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns, that spoke directly to my heart.  What he said about poetry applies equally to blogging, painting and the arts in general:

“I think when I first started writing in my teens and became increasingly committed to it in my early twenties, I wrote to be a contributing member of some great community . . . And I did it to be noticed, to be loved and authenticated.  I did it to be important.  I did it to give myself a voice.  I did it to be published.  I did it to have a job.  I did it to earn a merit raise.  I did it to push back the night.  I did it to sing.  Oh, I wrote for all sorts of reasons.  Then those reasons began to drop away, and now I do it mostly for itself.  I do it because I love it; I do it because I have no choice.  But the act of letting the poem go, of sending it out to be published, is now something I must make myself do.  And I do it to maintain my tenuous connection to the world. . . .  This connection, however, might be to only one person, one reader with whom the poet feels an affinity.  Nowadays I write for quite a few people who are no longer living.”

And I especially like this next Dobyns insight into why we make things:  “Writing a poem is one of the ways to love the world.”

And loving the world is always a worthy thing.

 

 

Strolling along tall cedar trees, Washington Park Arboretum

I made a special visit to the Washington Park Arboretum yesterday to experience Paths II: The Music of Trees, a series of seven sound installations by composer Abby Aresty.  She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, and this outdoor music project is her dissertation.  She recorded natural sounds at these sites in different seasons, and then used them in compositions, which are broadcast in three-hour “concerts” on Wednesdays and Saturdays in October. You can read more about this remarkable project in this Seattle Times article.

I didn’t want the month to pass without checking out this unusual art project.  Armed with a map from the Visitor’s Center, I strolled the paths looking for the seven listening sites.  As always, I enjoyed wandering among the many tall trees of the arboretum.  And the unique soundscapes made this visit especially memorable.

“Twisted things continue to make creaking contortions.” (Gaston Bachelard). At Site 1, twisted plastic tubing becomes “mutant” branches.

The path near Site 1: The Music of Trees

Staircase under Japanese maple, Washington Park Arboretum

Walking beneath the rhododendrons at Site 4, where the sounds featured raindrops on leaves

Rhododendron bud

Site 6 used hanging sculptures like wind chimes, and the music incorporated the sounds of falling leaves.

Looking up into the maple tree at Site 7. I couldn’t hear the sound concert because a maintenance crew was blowing leaves down the way.

Washington Park Arboretum

Light-dappled curtain of leaves

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Colorful Japanese maple against evergreen

Cluster of oak leaves

Bench, Washington Park Arboretum

Street light, Washington Park Arboretum

“Consider what a vast crop is thus annually shed on the earth!  This, more than any mere grain or seed, is the great harvest of the year.  The trees are now repaying the earth with interest what they have taken from it.  They are discounting.  They are about to add a leaf’s thickness to the depth of the soil. . . . We are all the richer for their decay. . . . It prepares the virgin mould for future corn-fields and forests, on which the earth fattens.  It keeps our homestead in good heart.”
— Henry David Thoreau, “Harvest”

The maintained trail through our woods

My family’s farm is bordered on the south by a small woods.  When I was young, our dairy herd had free run of the woods and adjoining pasture, and it kept the ground well cleared of brush.  It’s been many years since cows have trod through our woods, and the wilderness is taking over.  The woods are brushy with tangled undergrowth, which makes walking more difficult.

My Dad and brothers do maintain a groomed trail that loops around and through the woods so that we can enjoy our walks there.  The cleared path is quiet and sheltered.  This time of year, the path was blanketed with fallen leaves, mostly brown.  The threadbare trees have their own kind of beauty.

“The woods now going threadbare show us the forest’s inner strength.”
— Allen M. Young, Small Creatures and Ordinary Places

I took this week’s Thoreau quote, not from Walden, but from another of his published writings because it reminded me of my walks through the woods at our Minnesota farm.  I invite you to accompany me on a virtual walk through the woods with these photos:

Stalks of goldenrod

The fall colors have muted to browns and greens

The woods are tangled with new growth and brush.

Looking up into the canopy

Looking down onto the leaf-strewn path

Pine cones amidst the pine needles

Fox squirrel

Stripped bark

My brother's hunting blind

“After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things.”
Wallace Stevens, from “The Plain Sense of Things”

Watercolor sketch of red oak leaves from Glenn's memorial tree

Watercolor sketch of white oak leaves

Another watercolor sketch of white oak, red oak leaves and acorns