November 23, 2019

rocks in garden
Art for Tribune, SLO, story, 12/12/1999 (colored pencil and watercolor on cold press illustration board)

It seems like I’m always digging through my art, looking for an odd piece of paper, brush or some kind of pigment that I haven’t seen for a while, but know is there. Or at least I think it’s there and I’m willing to dive in. So, I found this little colored pencil illustration when I went looking for some decent sized pieces of crescent board and tracing paper. I wanted to send my niece the piece of art I posted on October 6 and needed something to stabilize it so it would make it through the mail unscathed. I thought I had remembered sketching these river rocks about this time of year at least 20 years ago because I vaguely remember writing a story about kids in the garden that went with it. I had actually forgotten the overall point of the story, so now I was on yet another search into my artistic past. I was convinced I had written it for a kid’s magazine when we lived in Paso Robles and my son was about 5. So, I looked through all of my copies of those, but it wasn’t there. I was sure it had not been published in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, but I looked through those clippings anyway. Low and behold there it was, and everything about the art and story came tumbling back to me. Funny that I should go looking for something that I did almost 20 years ago to the day, right? 

During those years in Paso Robles I was working as a freelance writer of math and science textbooks and teacher resource materials for young children. But what I really wanted to do was write about things to do in the garden with kids. As my son was of the perfect age to test out all of my ideas, I went crazy. I made long lists of activities and thought provoking suggestions that parents of young children could do outside. I was fortunate that between the Trib and the children’s magazine in Paso I got to explore and share those ideas with my art and stories in print. But I had so many things on that list that never made the ink of any periodical. Back then there wasn’t such a proliferation of blogs and self publishing was frowned upon by my other writer friends. A publisher was supposed to give you a contract and pay you directly for your work. That’s quite a shift from how it seems to go today. But my approach has evolved too. Now the art I have, past and present, functions as my muse and the idea for a story somehow always presents itself based on that art. Of course back then I was just trying to entertain my son and the list of ideas to try out came from that. But nothing I wrote about had to be exclusive to CA—It was just meant to be a message to parents that went something like: Go outside with your kids and look for something amazing! Of course we probably have more temperate/dry California days that we can go outside and do something. I won’t complain about that…

Now I look to entertain myself with geeky details of art materials, specific places in CA I have firsthand knowledge and my CA family stories. Don’t get me wrong, I work with kids and still believe they need to be outside and doing things in the garden. But the art seems to have taken on more of the central story as of late.

Pattern story 1999
Patterns in the Garden, SLO Tribune, December 1999

So, here it is. Once I found this clipping I remembered how fun it was to see the art and story together. It was the lead story in that section of the Sunday paper and took up over half the page. They had printed my art full size! That was a fun surprise. I still love the idea of kids looking for patterns in the garden and anywhere else their minds take them. I’m here to say that I wrote this a while ago, but looking for patterns is still a primary goal of teachers teaching in the elementary grades today, at least here in CA. In fact, I would go a step further and add that our brains seek out patterns, whether we like it or not. So, why not intentionally seek them out where ever you go. If you have been a recent follower of my blog this combo of art and newspaper story should look familiar. My November 9th post had a botanical of a Paperwhite (narcissus) with a SLO Tribune story (also from 1999) that focused on giving simple gifts from the garden. For that offering I made a couple observations about what I might do to update that story. But I have to say, I probably wouldn’t change anything about this one. I probably would remind the parent of an active child that you didn’t really need to go to a lot of fuss looking for materials. This story was pure serendipity and all started with my trimming some flowering plum trees. My son had come upon a pile I had made of 3 to 4 foot sticks and started stabbing them into our front lawn, making a kind of forest with a path you could walk through. And while I sat on our porch, watching him, I looked through his forest to our dry stream bed that flowed from the top of our front yard down to the sidewalk. You might be wondering what is actually flowing in a dry stream bed. Well, nothing, of course! Those of us in CA who can’t count on water staying in a place we left it (like a man-made pond or small creek) have come up with all kinds of great ways to have flowing water without actually having water. And a dry stream bed, complete with medium-sized to large-sized stones, was perfect waterless water feature for my front garden. As I watched my son busy himself with the sticks I plucked out a few rocks and created this on the lawn next to my son’s man-made forest. I added a couple pansies, and a small stone frog to the illustration, just for some color. Pansies are a kind of “go to” flower that adds color to drab fall and winter CA gardens.

I wasn’t the only one on our cul de sac who had a dry stream bed in the front garden. There was a guy up the street from me who also had a dry stream bed in his front yard as well. Every year at Christmas he put out strands of blue lights on the rocks that he had wired so they would turn on and off to look like water flowing down the rocks. Yup, we are obsessed with water out here. Of course his water only flowed at night and needed electricity, which somehow might be a hazard under normal circumstances…

But guess what? It rained last week in SoCal. Woo hoo! And it’s supposed to rain on Thanksgiving this coming week. And again I say woo hoo! So, what am I thankful for? You guessed it, real water, not the fake stuff I just told you about. And what are you thankful for? Probably that I won’t chatter on, for a time, about fires and our parched CA landscape. And, of course I am thankful that won’t be on my mind for a while as well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, One California Girl 

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