In my studio, while working on my ink drawings series, Land and Water Meditations, I spontaneously drew a large tree that I titled Planted. With hundreds of ink lines, I created the vitality and energy of thousands of leaves in this enormous tree that extended to the top and side borders of the picture.
The drawing reminded me of a similar tree I grew up with in Seattle. A monumental Black Walnut stood in our front yard, about one hundred feet tall with a horizontal span of almost seventy feet. Johnny, my childhood name for the behemoth, waited until all other vegetation had bloomed in the spring before finally pushing out tiny tender leaves. In the fall, Johnny seemed eager to sleep and was the first to shed its yellow leaves. However, between April and September, Johnny grew hundreds of black walnuts, keeping the neighborhood squirrels busy. These were not the mild-tasting, plump English walnuts bought in stores. The meat of our black walnuts featured a bold earthy flavor and stained our hands brown. Thick green husks, impossible for human hands to remove without tools, covered the extra hard shells of the nuts, much harder to crack than the thinner-shelled English nuts. With fruit trees aplenty on our land, we didn’t harvest the difficult nut bounty. Our many happy squirrels easily cut through the tough shells and feasted.
Throughout my childhood, I talked to Johnny who became a friend. Each spring I worried his leaves wouldn’t appear and chatted to him, reminding him it was time to wake up. I had a lot to tell him, for I confided all my troubles into his oval leaves, each one like a small ear. In August, I loved to stand under Johnny’s thick canopy, amidst a shower of heavy nuts. With its thick husk around the shell, each was the size of a lemon and hit the ground with a loud plop. I twirled around with my arms out, sometimes hit by the falling nuts, which made me laugh out loud. “You got me a good one, Johnny,” I’d yell. In the fall, I sighed with regret as he prepared for his long rest. Who would listen to my confidences now? His bright yellow leaves drifted down like ochre snow. When his bare limbs were outlined like dark slashes against the gray skies, I bid him, “Good night, Johnny. Sleep tight. I’ll miss you.”
My affection for, and conversations with Johnny have lasted for my lifetime. In my drawing, I unconsciously created a focal point under the soil. Considering his enormous height and width, Johnny’s root system remained oddly shallow, taking advantage of rain and nutrients near the top soil. I placed a bright orange color underground to make the area a visual focal point of light, to honor this vital part of Johnny I’d never imagined before. This subterranean view prompted me to imagine the essential food and stamina the earth provided for my magnificent lifelong friend.
Over the years, through my meditation practice, I’ve been in closer contact with my deeper recesses, my symbolic underground, which has provided the steady nurturing of spiritual light: insight, positive energies, glorious peace and the release of toxic mental strife. In this drawing, the orange provided a symbol for my personal inner sources. Only through this drawing, did I realize the link I felt with Johnny’s invisible robust root system.
Johnny’s busy texture, fashioned by thousands of ink lines, filled the top part of the visual space, depicting his exuberant leafy expanse. However, highlighting his hidden complexities provided me with insights about my inner flow of nurturing energies.
Planted is featured in the Walter Wickiser’s space within the Seattle Art Fair, July 27-30th at the Lumen Field Event Center, 800 Occidental Avenue S, Seattle, Washington.