“Drawing Trees,” by Sheryl Potts, is a runner-up in a tree-themed essay contest organized by Michigan’s 2017 Harbor Springs Festival of the Book and judged by Josh MacIvor-Andersen.
If I could draw just one thing for the rest of my life—to tell a story through line, shade, and light—I would draw trees.
With bare toes rooting into the cool, damp earth, I sit upon a moss-covered cushion, thoughtful in the lush of loam. I find my breath slowing to the rhythm of the woods, allowing time for my eyes to caress each bow of bough, each knot, gnarl, and curving plane.
Taking up my pencil, I trace the twists and turns—an old spiraling lightning strike, the twirl of a falling leaf—to capture the silence, the strength, the scribbles of pain.
From log of limb to twiggiest tip, thick lines and thin define each bark crack and crevice, portraying a history of weather, growth, injury, and rain. Playing highlight against shadow, I create patterns and shape—stumping to blend all shades of gray—until the tree’s massive trunk branches out on the page.
I imagine the sway, the dance in the wind, and render the canopy 4H to H—light in the lead—the green queen’s crown a-glint in the sun. In the darkest most secret crannies and clefts, I press hard on 6B, soft and deep, draping her forks in cloaks of moist foliage.
A heartbeat of sap rises and falls, sweet ink in the veins from twining of root up through skeletal bends, rendered in graphite scratches, dashes and scrawls. With each transpiration freshing the air, her whispering wisps of leafy-breath veils blow dots, dapples and finely laced shadows across the ground.
Pencil to paper—cedar shavings to pulp of pine—I hold the forest in my hand.
Sheryl is a librarian and former newspaper editor who moved to the northwoods to write stories, hike with her goats, mosaic her walls, dance with butterflies, paint with wild abandon, and, to draw trees. She lives in Bliss, Michigan with her husband and their three Old English Sheepdogs.
Michigan’s Harbor Springs Festival of the Book is a rich celebration of literature nestled in a small town by a big lake.