As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, I was very fortunate to have woods in my backyard, even though where I lived was still considered the suburbs. I lived in a neighborhood called Creekwood, and we had what most southwestern PA folks called a “crick” running behind our homes. My neighborhood friends and I spent endless hours playing among the trees and trails and gentle flowing creek, conjuring fantastical stories and wild adventures that could only be born from the mind of a wide-eyed young boy. Yes, we had our Atari 2600s, and later our Sega and Nintendo systems, yet the woods rarely had to vie for our attention. I had always felt a deep connection with the woods – always had a strong sense that the trees, the dirt, the bugs and the birds were never strangers or foes to be feared, but friends, more than anything else.
While studying art in college, I took some drawing courses that helped me to “see” things more clearly, more accurately. My drawing instructor was a wise, older gentleman with Buddhist leanings, who stressed the importance of looking closely at things as we drew and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. I remember leaving the studio after a few intense hours of drawing, observing and recording what we saw in charcoal on paper, and then walking around campus experiencing what could only be described as a natural high. Everything around me appeared to take on a certain heightened significance, from trees to buildings – it all looked so interesting to me.
When I moved to Virginia for a new teaching job, I started hiking again – something I’d done every weekend for a stretch of few years in Pennsylvania, after graduating from college. I often brought along a camera, and occasionally took a sketchbook and drawing materials with me as well. I developed a deep fascination mostly with the trees. And while taking photos of the trees helped me become more aware of their significance, it was during the drawing and the sketching of those deeply rooted beings that I began to form a deeper connection and understanding of their presence on our planet. It was the return to the observing and recording that led me to be more present and living in the now — losing track of the past, the future, and time in general, focused on the twists and turns, shapes and forms and textures of the trees which stood before me.
Sometimes a bird or a lizard or small mammal of some kind shared these mostly quiet moments with me, and sometimes my sketches would later become full-blown, large-scale, colorful paintings. Still, it was the immediacy of drawing and sketching that brought me the most satisfaction and sense of contentment and connection to something other — to something bigger than myself and something wild in the purest interpretation of the word.
In a sense, this drawing habit had become a form of prayer. I wish I had practiced it more often, especially when the going would get tough and life would get right up in my face. There is a sacredness to be found in sketching, and I wish more people set aside their excuses and tried their hand at drawing, trees in particular. I can only imagine what our would might be like today if that were the case.
Author: Steve Loya
(Steve please send us an email so we can create a special bio for you).