…is a line from a favorite Walt Whitman poem of mine called, “This is What You Shall Do.” Sounds rather like the 10 Commandments according to Walt Whitman, but the flavor is not all that different. Some of the remaining lines after the above are:
“Read these leaves in the open air,
Every season of every year of your life….
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
I am fairly confident that WW means for us to read HIS leaves, meaning the pages of HIS poetry, but I will interpret it as I can also read other leaves and consider their meaning to me. Why does a designer care about this? Because taking the time to pay attention to even small details is important. Even if at first glance they might not seem so, or we neglect them, in time or with further consideration small things might have great impact. As some southern friends of mine say, sometimes you have to “be still” to get to this point.
I think there is no better way to consider the garden that to consider the leaves, a detail I think of importance. It seems like more considerations are given to the showy flower, the size of a plant, instead of the leaf that shows up for work every day. Leaves dress the plant from the first nascent green buds of spring all the way to the crinkly and rattly brown of the persistent leaves of the oak that endure the blasts of an unrelenting winter wind only to be pushed off come another spring with its new life. And nowhere in the garden can you see this better than from the vantage point beneath a tree.
When it’s not so horribly hot, head to the hammock should you have one, and if not, set for yourself at least a chair where you can sit under the canopy of a tree. A park is even better. (I know sometimes it’s hard to relax even when I’m trying to should I see a weed that I think must be pulled immediately.) Take a book but allow yourself the opportunity to stop now and then when you turn a page. Look up. No wait. Take the time to SEE. To look is only mechanical; to see is to absorb, to wonder about it, to even appreciate and have gratitude for what this moment is. To pay attention in a new way.
The garden and the trees are turning a seasonal page, too. See how the branches make lines against the sky and how the clouds can move through to change the picture. Notice the movement of the leaves–some of them are already dropping. Notice the undersides of them too while you now can, from this vantage point. You can see the veins of the leaves, the way they have been nourished through the season. See how the branches bend under the weight of a squirrel moving from limb to limb. You will remember the tree from the earlier parts of the garden season–and the rest of the garden, too. While you’re at it, take in the texture of the bark, the flare where the roots curve toward the soil.
I think now is the ideal time before the trees begin to lose their canopies for the season. And for the most part, your garden chores with the exception of the ever-present weeds are probably at a easier point, and if we are lucky to get rain today, a break from some hose-dragging.
I’m calling it a pause. A break before the frenzy of fall activities and the garden clean-ups. We know the fullness of the summer season is soon to transition to autumn harvests. Savor it. Take in the details. Here is a passage from a day book I’ve been reading, one wise and wonderful. The Book of Awakening is written by Mark Nepo, a teacher and a cancer survivor. He writes: “Their [trees] endless turns of bark make each look like a sage. Yet, amazingly, the skin of an old tree is no more than a living map of its scars. Can it be that the cuts turn scars and the scars turn into beautiful quiet notches in which things that fly can nest? In every space opened when what we want gets away, a deeper place is cleared in which the mysteries can sing. If we can only survive that pain of being emptied, we might yet know the joy of being sung through. Strangely and beautifully, each soul is a living flute being carved by life on Earth to sound a deeper and deeper song.”
Do it now.