A Book of Trees in a Dream

January 17, 2012

I have always wanted to write an illustrated natural history book.  It began long ago, when I began to see scientific illustration as more than just an old-fashioned art form, and started to work on it as a spiritual practice.

Morel - watercolor, 1984

Morel - watercolor, 1984

Science. Nature. Art. Spirit.  For me there is no division between these things, although Science typically argues otherwise, and continues to shatter Itself into smaller and more isolated fragments.

“Things just get further and further apart, The head from the hands, and the hands from the heart.”
– Lhasa de Sela (from the album “The Living Road”, 2004).

 It recently occurred to me that I have been looking for this book all of my life, subconciously searching for it in libraries, nature centers, bookstores, and even online.  But I’ll never find it there, and my unusual combination of interests probably means that it must be purely a personal project.  In years past, I’ve made several attempts to plan it, and succeeded only in writing a few disjointed paragraphs to go with a handful of random images.  But it began to crystallize about a year ago, as I refined the Lichen Oracle and decided to let it evolve into a larger project.  A diverse collection of notes, lists, and drawings – some of them years or decades old – slowly came together, like iron filings drawn by a magnet.  I drew a huge diagram that evolved into a tangled net of tiny interconnected sketches and single words.  It sat rolled up in my studio for months as I conjured inspiration to fill in the gaps.  New sketches accumulated on the shelf above it.  One day I unrolled the chart, intending to make a second draft, more organized and detailed.  I realized that half of it was sketches for four drawings that I had since finished.  I rejected some of it as no longer useful.  Only a small piece was left.  I added it to the pile of recent sketches, put them all in an empty, newly-prepared drawer of my flatfile cabinet, and went back to work on a pencil drawing.

Slowly and quietly, all the bits and pieces began to speak to each other.  Irrelevant or duplicated ideas vanished.  Hidden connections surfaced.  A simplified structure emerged.  I began to see it, like a path through a thicket.

A book of drawings, paintings, illuminations, and writing.

The Graphis Lichen Oracle and the Oracle of Sticks, Stones, and Bones.

A record of sacred natural treasures:  trees and precious pebbles, seedpods, shells, fungi, pieces of wood.

How to look at a deer antler, or a desert fern, or a quartz crystal, or a turtle shell.

A Creekwalker’s account of the Gates into the Otherworld:
The Lichen Cloak, the Thorn House, the Wheel of Hawks.

And other pages, still unspoken here…

Of course some of it is already finished.  A lot more resides in the drawer of rough drafts, waiting.  A new red ochre drawing lays on my desk.  One night I saw a version of the book in a dream, a sure sign that the project is well on its way and ready for more energy and a tighter focus.  In the dream, the pages held only pencil drawings of sacred native trees and their wood:  oak, hackberry, saguaro, swamp tupelo, beech, and others.  Its purpose was to “banish the fear of death” in the viewer.  (I expect that would take a very special and unusual viewer, given the incomprehension, unease, fear, or hostility with which most people view this type of art).  But it was good enough for me.  The work continues, more seriously now, as the path rises into the desert oak forest.

Tree Book - Wood Drawings

Tree Book - Wood Drawings

O’bon L’Artiste pencils in a Moleskine large sketchbook.
LEFT:  weathered live oak wood (Quercus virginiana), Nags Head, NC.
RIGHT:  part of a walking stick made from Arizona black oak root (Quercus emoryi), Santa Rita Mountains, AZ.
TOP:  saguaro “boot” (scarwood), baldcypress driftwood, and rockmat (Petrophytum caespitosum), a miniature shrub.


7 Responses to “A Book of Trees in a Dream”

  1. Mo Crow said

    your drawings & observations are exquisite, look forward to seeing where this project takes you! Have you shelved your Black Cat Society that is such a beautiful project too!

    • ironwing said

      Awhile ago I wrote that I’d decided not to finish the Black Cat Society playing card deck (too frivolous, among other things) but I planned to write a small book about Beluga (my circle-dancing neuro cat) that would include some of the drawings I’d made for the deck. I’m still making black cat drawings and some will be part of a fabric design for a wall hanging.
      I go back and forth on the idea of a book about Beluga. I would enjoy putting it together but it would probably just be a personal keepsake. I really can’t imagine anyone wanting to hear his story or look at pictures of him unless they were one of the very small number of people who know him. I think he’s wonderful but most people wouldn’t see that. Anyway, I wouldn’t go public with a book while he is still walking the earth because he is too vulnerable.

  2. judithornot said

    I remember the intense response I had when I went through The Ironwing Tarot card by card. So yes, I can imagine a meditative book such as you describe might not appeal to a mass market. But I know there are people it would appeal to (I am one of them), so I hope it comes to that point some day. Meanwhile, enjoy the process, Lorena. 🙂

  3. Debbie said

    I believe the future is relying on people taking up practices such as yours, and that your work is tremendously important – as an acorn is to an oak. For those others of us doing pieces of this work, please do continue – it looks wonderful!

  4. Laurel said

    Lorena, I believe this book is your calling. I only know you from your work and this blog, of course, but everything you describe seems so very much in line with both. Please keep on with your explorations.

  5. woley said

    As a keen lover of natural history and scientific illustration, I have enjoyed your work for years and can see how this dream is important. You have an interesting journey and talent, a book to outline it all and inspire would be something WONDERFUL.

    I have tried to do scientific illustrations but the detail and perfection defeats me and I end up with rougher things. The idea of it as a spiritual practice is something I tend to believe, but can’t quite becalm myself to do. An insightful book like this by someone I respect, would be invaluable.

    I so very much agree with you about Science fragmented and people fragmented and losing their connection to hands and heart. You really have something to say, I was delighted to hear how this book is coming together.

  6. Karin said

    This entry is an extremely important insight into the creative process, and your book is a mature fruit in the ether now. I’ll be buying it as a talisman against the fear of transformation within Nature.

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