A couple of weeks ago, I bought a new sketch pad and some pencils, sure that with a little practice, I'd be able to steady my hand enough to produce a few somewhat recognizable drawings to go along with some of my writings about nature and outdoor experiences.
I loved drawing in a past life, though I was never really any good. Back then, it was superheroes or comic book characters, something I'd do rather than studying for a history exam, or doing my Algebra homework. I drew some animals and fish, but they were always cartoonish. Sometimes my drawings were good, but I never took it seriously. Same thing with writing. Had I known then, what I want to know now.
My first sketch the other day was of a rainbow trout. It wasn't perfect, but I was satisfied with it. I took my time and paid attention to detail, and found the whole thing both relaxing and invigorating. I was tickled that it actually favored a fish, much less a trout. I spent a while shading in the right colors. I was the proudest first grader ever. I woke my wife to show her, and she was delighted with it. I thought she would hang it on the fridge, but she hasn't yet.
Sunday morning, I took my new art supplies outside, and searched the skies and treeline for something to draw. After a long stretch of sketcher's block, I felt something touch my ankle. My first thought was a fire ant or beetle, but no. When I looked down I saw my subject staring me right in the face. It was a weed.
I reached down and pulled the weed from a crack in the brick and noted the details. I saw the veins in the tiny leaves, the shades of greens and purples and yellows. The subtle white flowers that were starting to bloom. The fine hairs of the remaining root system. I held the thing in my hand and began to sketch. The weed didn't have a name yet, and halfway through the sketch, I was researching the plant, trying to identify it.( Thank goodness for Google) I wanted to know the taxonomy, the natural history of my subject. I was doing the work of a naturalist.
It would take a lifetime for me to identify half of the plant life in my back yard, much less, draw them. But I learned what a Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is, and I sketched something that somewhat resembles one. Now, every time I notice one in the yard, I can call it by name, and remember how the leaves and stems felt in my hand as I transferred it's image to the page.