After the holidays, when the fun part of winter has ended but there are still at least three months of bare trees, no flowers, and cold that keeps us indoors, I start getting antsy about the garden. I stand at the windows and stare out, plotting, planning, making mental lists of seeds and plants to buy, wondering, “should I kill more grass for another flower bed?”
Usually I make lots of notes in pencil in a composition book, in words, never easy to find again when it’s time to actually do something in the garden. Those notes are always planning for a future rather than enjoying the present moment, which, like it or not, I must live through to get to the spring and summer where green will sprout from the ground, flowers will bloom, butterflies will flit and flutter, and I can sit on the back deck in short sleeves and bare feet to soak it all in.
This year I wanted to try something different. Every January, I have to consult old calendars to see when I did what for the garden: when did I start seeds indoors? When did I order mulch? When did the forsythia bloom? This year, I want to create a visual journal of these winter months. I want to be able to flip through it and see what was going on and when. I also want to acknowledge the beauty of winter so that I can better bear these dormant, cold months.
And, let’s be honest, I wanted another excuse to use my fountain pens. I’ve filled multiple lined journals with inked words. What if I use all these colors to make pictures, too?
When I organized my ink samples on Friday, I changed the inks in almost all of my fountain pens. I loaded pens with the colors I see outside in January — Honey Bee (golden), Walnut (brown), Moon Dust (gray), Cardinal Kestrel (red), and Coral (ok, I don’t see this one as much, except at sunrise). I switched out the turquoise blue in one pen for more of a sky blue.
Then, I took inspiration from my friends who draw, and I drew little pictures. I drew birds at the feeder, a bloodtwig dogwood I saw on a walk, the dry golden grasses that are still beautiful, even in winter.
The very first picture I drew, of the salmon sky at sunrise on Friday, is pretty terrible. Drawing is hard! You really have to look (and translate what you see through your body and into a correctly-proportioned rendering on the page). As I attempt to draw, I realize that when writing, it’s easy to leave gaps. I can write “cardinal” and that will conjure a mental image of a red bird, with a few distinguishing characteristics filled in, depending on how familiar the reader (or writer) is with cardinals. But when I’m trying to draw a cardinal — what color is its beak? And what shape? And how long? What’s the shape of its head? Its body? What color are its legs? You can’t really continue with your drawing without knowing those things. You can’t leave an empty space where a beak would be.
Those details force me to pay attention in a way I haven’t in the past. Drawing demands me to see more fully. I like that. Plus, paying attention really does make me appreciate the beauty of winter, even if I’d much rather the world outside to be green and warm.