"Plant Dreaming Deep"
“Plant Dreaming Deep” is the title of a journal by the poet, May Sarton. In it, she details her restoration of a house in New Hampshire where she began planting what turned out to be a series of spectacular gardens.
I read over the lists of flowers and trees she chose, my lips moving silently, as if I was reading over a mouth watering menu. When I first read Plant Dreaming Deep many years ago, it was my safe place to go, my retreat when it seemed like the critiques and sharp barbs of graduate school threatened to tip over my craft.
I’m closer now to May’s age when she began her journal and I’ve turned my mind to a dream of my own planted those many years ago; botanical drawing.
I’d heard of botanical illustration and wanted to take a class, but never did. 30 years later, flipping through our art center catalogue, I read a description for a botanical drawing class. It noted that “The emphasis will be on careful observation of our subjects with a playful, open-minded approach.“
The words playful and joyful hooked me (because who doesn’t need more of that?) and I arrived at the first class, my DeYoung tote bag filled with bright and shiny art supplies including sumi ink brushes, bamboo pens, waterproof black ink and a thick black bound journal of creamy watercolor paper.
Our first class began with a blind contour drawing of a flower–a multi-floral rose. Now you need to know that drawing is not my strongest suit. I studied it, took classes in it, but its finer points have always eluded me.
Stacey, my friend and instructor, advised us that we should approach the flower as if we were taking a trip with our pencil, curious about each bend in the road. I gulped, began–and loved it.
Stacey emphasized the practice of non-attachment to the results, straight out of Yoga and Buddhism. I could relate to this. I found my pencil slowly wandering along the petals, getting lost in the contours and subtle serrations of the leaves.
I was surprised how quickly the time passed and surprised too by the result, the wavering lines which overlapped and crossed each other, nonetheless conveying the feeling of a rose.
As my pencil continued to explore, I felt extremely relaxed and peaceful, a kind of peacefulness I hadn’t experienced for some time and to which I connect the feeling of meditating. Meditation–one of those activities that I know is “good for me” but is hard to get to. The way my mind can spin! But with this drawing, there was none of that, no swirl of thoughts that accompanied my sitting meditations.
Could it be that I had found my own form of meditation? I’ll find out as the class continues, but for now I’m resting my mind in the luxurious feeling of my sumi brush as I slowly brush the ink onto the paper. I’ve found a retreat. And I think I’m going to go back and reread Plant Dreaming Deep.
Happy the man who can long roaming reap,
Like old Ulysses when he shaped his course
Homeward at last toward the native source,
Seasoned and stretched to plant his dreaming deep.
-May Sarton, after Du Bellay