The Native Tree Project

Mature piñon pine tree, Pinus edulis, on the banks of a small arroyo in the high desert of New Mexico.

This piñon pine near my home will be the model for a 2-year portfolio project.

As part of the RBGE Distance Diploma in Botanical Illustration, I need to document the life of a native or historic tree for 2 years.

Choosing a tree was surprisingly difficult. I was very enamored of the heirloom varieties of apple, pear and apricot trees that were planted throughout the Four Corners states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In fact, the Randall Davey Audubon Center here in Santa Fe has such an old orchard dating back to the 1890s, and I talked with them about using one of their trees in exchange for a lecture or exhibit to help with their programming. Unfortunately, their orchard doesn’t always bear fruit every year due to the extreme climate at the top of Canyon Road. I couldn’t find another tree of the same variety to serve as an understudy if the star couldn’t perform, so the search continued.

A horse chestnut on Canyon Road at the Santa Fe Historical Foundation’s HQ, El Zaguan, caught my eye. The last survivor of an historical garden and chestnut grove dating to the 1850s, this imposing specimen is a beautiful anomaly in this desert city. The foundation’s office staff gave me the impression that the foundation was not going to work hard to save the tree if its health began to fail as, “it had already lived past its normal lifespan.” So the hunt continued.

The aspen grove located in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also intrigued me. Aspens are like grass: essentially a large, single, clone organism. This particular grove is perhaps one of the largest in North America. Even though this grove is just across town, getting there entails a 45-minute drive–in good weather. I’ll need to be able to check on the tree’s status at least weekly, and more frequently at key lifecycle points, so this was rather inconvenient.

Finally, I realized the answer was in front of my eyes. The piñon pine, or Pinus edulis, is the state tree of New Mexico. It also grows all over the high desert around my exurban house in an environment described as piñon-juniper woodlands. It’s an important food source for animals and humans. Individual trees have beautiful forms, sculpted by wind and weather. Existential drama comes from an epidemic onslaught of an insect pest.

I hope you’ll enjoy learning along with me more about this icon of the Southwest!

Some thoughts on completing the PiBoIdMo challenge

Nevis the black Scottish terrier dog has a dignified and thoughtful appearance

Sexy beast. Nevis would love to pen rabbit murder mysteries. Sadly, a lack of opposable thumbs has stymied this talented storyteller.

This morning I jotted some notes down for my final journal entry in the Picture Book Idea Month challenge. This is the first time I’ve ever completed an internet challenge event. I’m not really one for these public group goal-meeting activities: In fact, I usually avoid them. What made this one more accessible for me was the fact that we didn’t have to publish or upload our work online, thus sidestepping the whole exhibitionistic aspect of so many of these events.

Some things I noticed as I wrote my daily entries:

  • Quite a few entries were based on New Mexico life and culture. This is the first time in the 2 years I’ve lived here that local flavor has influenced my creativity. I guess it means I’ve finally settled in! 🙂
  • A few entries came out of some deep childhood memories, not always pleasant. After I wrote them down, I said, “Whoa, that’s kind of scary. Let me sit with that a while.” Don’t know if or when they’ll get more exploration.
  • At least 2 entries were snippets of conversation from the day before.
  • Characters predominated over plots.
  • Often, I’d jot down a brief idea, opening the door to other, more detailed ideas.
  • Other times, I’d write a quick idea on one day, only to have more details for it the next.

Tomorrow, I’ll go to Tara Lazar’s blog and sign off in confirmation of completing the project.   Thanks to Tara Lazar for her hard work in organizing and hosting this large event and all of the guest bloggers who provided inspirational essays about their experiences as writers and illustrators over the course of the month.

Did you participate in this challenge? What did you notice about your ideas or the writing process?

Groovy Link of the Month: PiBoIdMo and Tara Lazar

2014 PiBoIdMo logo courtesy of Tara Lazar and Vin Vogel.

Picture Book Idea Month is a 30-day writing challenge created by children’s author Tara Lazar. Logo designed by Vin Vogel.

This month is Picture Book Idea Month, or PiBoIdMo, an online writing challenge created by children’s author Tara Lazar, whose blog is called Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). The Twitter hashtag is #PiBoIdMo and Lazar’s Twitter handle is @TaraLazar.

Lazar created the challenge as a response to the NaNoWriMo challenge, in which participants are encouraged to write a 50,000 word rough draft of a novel and upload it online. She felt that the 50,000 word project had little relevance for aspiring children’s authors, so was inspired to create a participatory goal-setting event that could kickstart emerging picture-book writers’ work habits.

The concept is simple: after signing up, participants agree to take some time every day during the month of November and jot down a storyline or concept for a children’s picture book. The challenge is run on the honor system and participants are not obligated to divulge their brilliant ideas online or publicly. At the end of November participants return to Lazar’s site and sign in to certify they completed the 30-day writing goal.

Every day this month, guest authors are posting inspirational essays and/or writing and drawing tips on Lazar’s blog. There will also be prizes distributed at the end of the month. Prizes include fun items like mugs and signed copies of guest bloggers’ published picture books.

Image Credit: Vin Vogel designed the 2014 PiBoIdMo logo/banner for use by Lazar’s blog and challenge participants. Be sure to check out his site, which features lively pen & ink work and flat-color vector illustrations.

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