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Growing Along the Trail: April Hepatica

Some encounters with a new face stay with you for a long time.

In this case, the face was a flower found in a most unexpected place. I still remember the very first moment I saw them, those tiny wild booms known as hepatica. A vivid portrait remains in my memory of that little hillside, bathed in the early spring light--the kind which has not quite yet turned to the gold of summer sun. Between the shadows of little tilting gravestones and through the dappled light of the woods, tiny purple faces looked up at me.

The gravestones were the reason I stopped at all. Being a history major and a seeker of quiet spaces, the sight of a little long-forgotten family plot in the middle of a nature preserve is bound to bring me to a halt. As I stood outside the fence and gazed at those graves overtaken by time and the wild, I began to notice something I had not seen before. Hepatica are tiny, and sometimes blend in with cacophony of color left on the forest floor by the leaves of years past. So you have to stop and look carefully to find them. The delicate flowers were sprinkled all across the ground outside the little cemetery, but it's doubtful I would have noticed them had I not taken the time to stop.

In seasons of difficulty I often have a park that I gravitate towards. Something about the place that draws me in, and helps me find my voice as I cry out to the Lord. We are very blessed in Northeast Ohio to have an abundance of wonderful parks systems, which I found not to be the case in Indianapolis. The Lord was faithful, however, to provide a little nature preserve not far from my church where I could go and find peace away from living downtown. A little patch of wood and wetland which would become my own sanctuary in the midst of the pressures of graduate school. Along the winding trail sat a little graveyard, a marker of the land's past, which I visited to pay my respects to each time I went.

Where did this little cemetery come from? I wondered the first time I stumbled upon it. I remembered then that farmers of old often had family plots on their land. Perhaps this was one of those. A family graveyard. A family history. The stones too worn to read or crumbled apart, I had no way of knowing their names as I stood in that spot. But they had lived, and had been laid to rest here.

There's something about spring that often brings the juxtaposition of life and death to mind. Even before I lost my own mother in the spring, watching lively flowers rise up out of dead and decaying leaves has long held my thoughts. For those of us in this hemisphere, spring is a perfect time to celebrate Easter, when life is resurrecting out of death on a daily basis. Maybe that's why I love these spring ephemerals so much. Nearly every photo I take of them includes the forest floor, filled with the whitening bones of fallen logs and the crumbling decay of leaves. Life and death so near to one another, the pattern so cyclical. A reminder of our own mortality, a reminder of the possibility of life renewed in Christ.

Hepatica have, not surprisingly, come to remind me that the Lord brings life out of death. They resurrect around a graveyard each year, a small reminder that Christ rose from the grave that we might also rise again someday. It's the hope I have, and the hope my mother had. Like our church calendar, the rhythm of the seasons helps remind us of God's goodness and power each year, if only we will stop to look.


Back in the Studio

In the 19th century, a landscape school of thought emerged, espousing the idea that estate gardens would begin in a formal style around the house and grow wilder as you moved away. I love the idea of this progression. How do we add more native plants to our spaces without being overwhelmed or ripping out an entire yard? The idea of intentional movement with a trajectory was helpful to me. We can still intermix our favorite non-invasive non-native plants into our yards, even if we are moving toward more native species. One way to do that is to let our yard become progressively wilder as we move away from our house. Perhaps even our ideas of beauty will shift, and thriving ecosystems might loom large in our minds.

This movement of past to present and formal to wild was the underlying structure for this piece. As usual, I have been starting with vintage textiles to spark my creativity. The top of the piece begins with an antique quilt square. From that flows a kind of play on a quilt. The quilt squares become elongated; the fabrics go from printed to hand-painted. The hepatica grows larger until it is more than life size in wool applique at the bottom, and the quilt squares have ceased to be. Like the ideas which I hope to illustrate, the native flowers become the main focal point in the progression of fabrics and techniques.

For me, I believe that planting this way is bowing the knee to the Lord's design. He made our places to sustain certain plants and animals, and it is our job to steward them while living alongside them. To make space for the life the Lord ordained for our places and spaces.

My second piece was more about evoking the feel of stumbling across hepatica in the woods. I wanted the chaos of the "litter layer" (the forest floor covered in decaying leaves, branches, and plant material) to be prominent, and for the beautiful greens and purples of the flowers to float above it. I used the leaf shapes of native trees to this area (beech, maple, oak mostly) to create my leaf litter, and those were cut from antique scrap pieces. I loved the idea of using vintage materials as the leaf litter because those leaves are also symbols of the past. The leaves and flowers were made from new wool, painted by hand and stitched into place. I wanted the piece to have some breathing room, so more antique textiles create a more abstract notion of a log laying alongside this patch of hepatica. The space allows the viewer a break from the beautiful chaos of the forest floor.

Thanks for coming along the trail with me. To purchase my work, please visit my Etsy shop. I hope you manage to get out on the trail and see the amazing flowers growing there!


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