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Being Drawn In

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This past weekend, I stood in silence. Staring at a small selection of drawing supplies. I had wanted to buy some artist pens. Mine had dried out. Mine that I bought eight years ago, to illustrate an archaeological dog burial.

Clearly, it was time for some new drawing tools. But there were no pens to choose from there.

I almost walked away.

But I kept looking.  Maybe I missed something.

Maybe… I could buy some pencils.

My inner critic’s voice began, “We have boxes and boxes of pencils at home.”

“Yeah, but not pencils for drawing.”

“How can a pencil NOT be for drawing.”


I looked again.

I was almost in tears with the thought of buying them.

(Treating myself to art supplies can be a pretty intense experience.)

A small “artist pencil kit” caught my eye.

Three pencils, a kneaded eraser, two graphite sticks, and a woodless pencil.


And cue the critic:

“You’re going to spend almost ten dollars on something you don’t even need? Something that the kids are going to break, the dog is going to eat, and you are going to lose!?”

“Yes, Yes I am. Because I want to draw. Because I need to draw. AND it comes with a tin case.”

So now, I have a brand new set of pencils to entice me when I get that little whisper of a sense that I might like to draw.

Brand new drawing pencils

Brand new drawing pencils

And how glad I am. For I got that sense tonight, when I couldn’t sleep.

I started thinking about leaves.


This all started late last week when I was walking down the road with my two boys. We took the back alley on the way to the bakery. I had spent most of the week feeling under the weather and was quite unaware of the autumnal changes taking place outside. Lesson one in complementary colors

“Wait! Wait! Kids! Come here!” I called out. They must have thought I found a frog or a grasshopper, because they sure came back quick.

“Do you see how the color of the leaves is so yellow? And it makes the back of that building seem more purple than it ever has before?”

My oldest, interested and sure it must be some kind of magic, replied “Yeah, I do! What’s that about, Mom?”

“What colors make purple?” I ask.

After a little thought and some guessing, he came up with “Blue and Red”

“Yes! Is there any yellow in purple?”

“No….” (He says it in a voice that shows that thinks he might be getting tricked.)

“And that is why the yellow and purple make each other stand out so well!”

And thus began our seasonally appropriate lesson on colors.

IMG_0334And several stops on the way to the bakery.


IMG_0336 And a trip to the park. IMG_0349And some lessons on photography.


And a photo session that became what my son called the “Color Catch”




And left me thinking of leaves and trees.

And thinking of times when I was learning my leaves and trees.


And so, here comes that whisper.


It’s caught on something.

Draw leaves.

It’s drawn to a time.

A time when I took certain routes around the campus of Southern Illinois University, just to visit certain trees.

I may have been dating a forestry major.

But to tell the truth, I was in love with the trees.

So I started thinking about my beloved tulip poplar.

Just outside the Liberal Arts building.

I’d visit it everyday.

I miss the unique blossoms and the strange seed pods.

But I remember the leaf shape so well.

A few image searches left me longing.

Wondering how that tree is now.

Leaf Study Tulip PoplarAnd drawing the shape and uncovering the vein pattern.

I was suddenly grateful that I was treated myself to those pencils this weekend.

I needed them, for not just any pencil would do.

Memories of my wonder that exists in leaves continued to grow.

I thought of sweet gum.

This spectacular tree can have any range and combination of colors at any time in the fall.

It was a childhood favorite of mine. 750px-American_Sweetgum_Liquidambar_styraciflua_Fruit_Context_2500px

We had one at the house where my dad lived. Each fall, I would collect the funny round, poky, seed capsules and deposit them in hoards in the backyard. I loved them. 800px-Sweetgum_Seed_closeup

Come spring when my dad mowed the yard and found those caches of prickly seed capsules… well he didn’t like it so much then. But, I bet it would give him a big laugh now.

And so, I gave my try at playing with pencil shading the beautiful leaf shape and delicate intricacies of the seed capsules.

And was quite pleased with the process. Sweet Gum

And quite delighted to rediscover the joy of being drawn into to nature, one smooth graphite stroke at a time.

What a Tree Knows

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What a Tree Knows

Dogwood Blossoms

This is my place,

Under a dogwood tree.

The delicate blossoms,

The opposite arrangement of the branches and leaves,

They lend a bit of balance,

And I find myself grounded when I am there.

Even when I cannot truly be there,

I have the image,

The aroma,

The entire sensory experience,

The entire conversation,

All within my being.

For all that each offers,

That is what composes a sense of well-being for me.

The time will come,

I will see the green details,

And the intricate beauty again.

For now,

I must know,

That the mud, water, and even the snow

Are just temporary necessities,

And that spring, in time, will surely come.

Just as the blossoms,

and the leaves,

and the grasses always do.

listening to the trees, in late winter

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The air this morning was crisp and cold. The thermometer read -2 when we left to take my son to school. He says to me, “It looks like a lamb outside, a cold lamb.”

Given it is the first of March, this would suggest we will see this month in like a lamb, out like a lion.

The drop in temperature left a dusting of fluffy frost collected on the trees.

Sunrise over the First Lutheran Church of New Rockford

Sunrise over the First Lutheran Church of New Rockford

In that a moment, as the sun captured the flecks of crystalized moisture, the trees spoke to me. Even though it was cold, I listened.


They said, “Go back home and get your camera. We are feeling photogenic today.”


“The sky is the most exquisite shade of blue. A deep contrast on the shades of white, grey, and brown shown on our limbs. The same way the snow on the mountains accentuates the shades of color in the sky. We know you miss the mountains, but we are glad you are here. We are glad to be here too.” 

DSCN8325“Mornings like this are exciting. We awake, dressed with an unsurpassed beauty. A beauty we only welcome in winter.”


When we are dressed with such beauty, its almost as if our blossoms have returned. As if our buds have burst. But we know this dress is only temporary. For it is not yet time to begin stirring for spring. The birds have not yet come, to eat our remaining fruit. Our sap has not yet started running, to nourish our green parts. The air is not yet warm enough, to comfort our new growth.”

DSCN8330“Nonetheless, we are grateful for the day. For the elegant frost. For the beautiful sky. For those who take the time to notice. If they don’t take the time to notice us now, while we are dressed up and pretty, we will not laugh. We will not be disappointed. Afterall, that is just what life does to people.”

DSCN8345“But we will snicker, even giggle, later in the day. People will notice when we begin to shed our decor. They’ll think its snowing! And then, they’ll see the blue sky and feel relief. ‘Its not snowing outside! Its sparkling!’ And those are the moments we hope to hear, hope to feel. To feel the moments in which people feel the beauty that is all around. The moments in which they feel the beauty from which we come.”

listening to the trees

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There are times, when I am trying to tell my children something wise, that a smidgen of myself truly hears what I am saying. The recent revolving phrase in our home has been, “Not listening turns simple tasks into big problems.” I’ve said it over and over again. Then this morning, as I returned home from taking my oldest son to school, I heard it again. I truly heard it. I heard it in the trees. I heard it in the songs of the chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches. I should be listening too. “Not listening turns simple tasks into big problems.”

Black-capped chickadee

Listening to the birds is easy. They put their song out to the world. But it is on those late winter morning that they burst forth with fervor that we are reminded that each of them has a unique song to sing. If we are fortunate enough to know their songs, a whole world of possibility emerges. Over the upcoming months I will wait patiently to hear the song of the black-capped chickadee to change from a raspy “chic-a-dee-dee-dee-dee” to a crisp and brilliant “springs-here…springs-here.” It is a reminder that a symphony is yet to come as the robins, juncos, flickers, doves, and sparrows return to the north.

While part of my spirit might belong to the birds, my heart resides with the trees.


Sketches of some of my best friends.

Trees are some of my best friends. There are many that I know well, box elders, ashes, poplars, and oaks. There are some that I miss dearly, red buds, dogwoods, sweet gums, sycamores, and magnolias. Even from the furthest distance, I can still hear them. I can still know them. But perhaps they know me better. They bear witness to my being.

I missed these friends so dearly last spring that I took a solo train ride “back home” to the St. Louis area. I had come to the stark realization that I had been severely neglecting my creative inclinations. I took this trip to do a little soul searching, spend some time with my brother and sister, and listen to what the blossoming trees had to say.

Flowering dogwoods have so much wisdom imbued into those branches.

When I arrived in St. Louis, I could smell the blossoms in the air. It was a familiar perfume that overwhelmed the surrounding urban industries. I could smell the floral scent as I drove my dad’s car through the refineries of Wood River and East Alton. It was a comfort to know that something so strong welcomed me. The trees did look bigger. Grandma’s yard was much different than how I remembered. I knew that the apple trees I used to climb were long gone.

But the branches of other trees expanded out. There was less open space. Everything else felt smaller. Space is infinitely changing. Yet, mourning doves still occupy the edges of the yard. Squirrels are still fed and I am sure the horseradish still grows.

Everything is smaller. Except the trees.

Everything is smaller. Except the trees.

It seemed more like a process of recollection than recognition. Much like the processes young red bud branches undergo each spring as tiny delicate heart shaped leaves grow, nestled amid the perfectly intricate pink blossoms. eastern-redbud

With that recollection came a process of my own blossoming growth. I began to claim and maintain what was mine. I understood that the shades of colors that occupy my mind might not exist until I define them. In order to do that, I have to be willing to continue listening to the trees. 779154960_2767274445_0After all, that is where my heart is.

They continue to say,

Be strong. Be flexible. Grow. Be a refuge to others when you can. Reach for the sky. Prepare for the cold of winter. Celebrate the return of spring with running streams of sap and bursting buds of beauty. Embrace the warmth of summer and allow it to provide shade for others. Honor the turn of autumn with colorful confetti. Embrace what comes. Dance with the wind. Flourish within yourself. Don’t do. Just be. Continue to listen. Creation and existence is not without purpose, nor is it without love or pain. We have more to say.

rachel, in her natural habitat