Beginner's Heart

imageToday I joined my sister, brother-in-law and sister -in-heart for walk through the Dallas Arboretum. This is a picture of the Fern Dell, not far in from the entrance.

Liz — my sister’s best friend — used her membership to get the four of us in to the Arboretum. Now, I LOVE arboretums. Not much more beautiful, in my none-too-humble opinion, than beautiful informal gardens. Unfortunately, I’m not a long-distance walker these days.

So when I saw this lovely little pond, wearing a ruff of pink & white caladiums, beneath crape myrtles and Japanese maples and more, I was smitten. The others had to go on w/out me — I sat myself down on a bench to the side of the path and breathed. Seriously — for several minutes, I just inhaled the damp green-water&dirt fragrance.

There’s research I read relatively recently that says that being outside, in an environment like this, is better than Paxil. As good, in other words, as prescription anti-depressants. Just sitting beside the dell reminded me to breathe deeply. To chill, as we used to say. Although in 90-degree Dallas heat, it wasn’t easy. Then a breeze came, and I took out my watercolour pencils, and began to draw & write. imageThis despite the fact that — as you can see — drawing is NOT my best skill!

But here’s what happens when you look at something beautiful long & carefully, with enough attention to attempt to reproduce it on paper: you see it. Maybe unlike we see most of our lives. You see tree boles, and try to understand the red/gold/green of Japanese maple leaves. You notice where light falls and shadow lurks. You wonder exactly how to capture — if it’s even possible? — the silvered greygreen of shimmering water.

All of this takes time, when I could have been walking w/ my family. However, my contention is this: we NEED silence, and the contemplative attention that comes w/ writing a tanka, sketching nature. And we don’t have to be ‘good’ at either — we only have to practice. The way Buddhists speak of ‘your practice.’

Days like today, I realise that my journal is a large part of my practice. It’s certainly a record of it, at the very least: full of sketches, usually of trees in some form or other. I’ve learned to take at least my small tin of Aquarelles (watercolour pastels), although when I have the room (and know I’ll have time) I prefer my watercolour pencils. Often I tuck a watercolour brush in, as well — although I’ve learned that if I sketch w/ ink, it’s not a good idea to try to blend my watercolours… 🙂


I knew enough to begin w/ just the pond area, leaving the ribbons of caladiums for the 2nd drawing (still unfinished). And I didn’t even attempt to draw the dell filling w/ mist from the watering system. I’ll need to be a few more years along before I have that kind of bravado! But in the meantime? I spent almost 2 hours sitting. Breathing cool damp air. Focusing on one thing at at time, trying to distill beauty.

How beginner’s heart is that? Think about it — maybe you need some watercolour pencils…? Just for incentive…?



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