I was maybe twelve, thirteen at the most. It was summer in the farming community of Forest Grove, Oregon, late 1960’s. Everyone picked strawberries the entire month of June so we were up long before dawn to catch the farmer’s strawberry bus, and were well tuckered out by mid-afternoon when the bus dropped us back home. So this must have been July or August. I was lazily lounging on our cheap aluminum and webbed plastic folding chaise lounge, (If you’re old enough, you can picture exactly what I mean.) enjoying the sun, my book (likely a historical novel of the romantic bent) and my cherished summer freedom.
At some point, I looked up from my book and was struck by the walnut tree that was staring straight at me from half a block away. There was nothing between me and the tree except the graveled church parking lot and the low, white picket fence bordering our tiny back yard. It was an old, old maple, tall and somewhat misshapen from some long past ice rain or wind storm. Odds are it had been planted not long after the town settled in the late 1880’s. I wasn’t thinking about any of that, though, at the time. I was just struck by its ponderous beauty. It’s weight. It’s interweaving lines. It’s silence.
I had to draw it.
I have no idea now why I chose cardboard as my surface…maybe it was just the fastest paper I could get my hands on. It was the back of a tablet or notebook, and it was handy. I sat with feet curled under me on the lounge and started drawing from the base of that mighty trunk. As I moved up the trunk, I became completely mesmerized by the texture, the wavering of the lines of bark, the darker indents and lighter ridges and all of it. I felt transported…in a world far from the cheap woven webbing of my seat. I worked and worked. Drew and drew more, with my little #2 graphite pencil, unsharpened. After a while – maybe hours, I remember feeling this warm glow of amazement, pleasure and appreciation for what I was capable of. It was good. The tree on my cardboard was coming to life and it was a good drawing. I knew it. I kept drawing until dinner time.
And that’s it. I don’t know what happened to my walnut tree drawing. I’m sure it hung on the fridge for a while till it got replaced. Although I’d do almost anything to see that drawing again, I don’t really need to. The drawing is branded in my memory. I can see in my mind’s eye as clearly as I see my computer monitor right now.
It wasn’t my first drawing by a long shot. I started drawing the minute I could hold a crayon. And by the time I drew the walnut tree, I’d entered that back-of-the-match-book “Can You Draw This” contest and had received a personal typed letter in response saying that although I was too young for their program, I was talented and that I should continue to draw and eventually pursue art.
But I think that summer day drawing was my most important childhood drawing. It transported me in time and space and opened something up inside of me like nothing else ever had. Maybe it was the day I became an artist. Thank you, old and tireless walnut.
I would so very much love it if you commented below by telling us about your love of art and where and how it began?