From “First Poems,” Rainer Maria Rilke
Understand, I’ll slip quietly
Away from the noisy crowd
When I see the pale
Stars rising, blooming over the oaks
I’ll pursue solitary pathways
Through the pale twilit meadows,
With only this one dream:
You come too.
In art as in life, I am drawn to undiscovered places. Meadows, trails, unmarked roads, and places tucked between places of supposed interest– these are the places that call to me. I can remember, when I was small, a certain walk by a harbor. I was, along with my family, in the queue for the ferry, and everyone around us was looking at the boats & yachts, or buying carrot cake at the café with the green shingles. They came out with sticky, buttery pieces of bread wrapped in pink paper, and I didn’t care. I had found some sloped hill between the harbor and the city square. There was a patch of clover, and I was buried in it, picking every white weed I could. I made daisy chains with what I could hold, and stuffed the rest of the flowers in my satchel. I was completely absorbed. It’s true that I had found a physical place– a somewhat secret place, off the beaten path. More importantly, I had accessed that dreamy, creative space. Creativity is the ultimate retreat, you know.
To this day, I’m always looking to have some experience within another experience– to find a secret place, or an imagined place. The dreamiest parts of my floristry work allow me to kind of drift in this way. When I’m connected to the product and project, I can get so lost in the process of creating. The same is true of writing, and playing music, and dancing, when all goes well. You touch something intangible. You go somewhere intangible, if you know what I mean– and if you make anything with your hands or your heart, you do.
For this photo story, I wanted to recreate the feeling of finding a secret place, be it real or imagined. As we scouted for locations, I wandered a ways from my cutting garden, and found a place off a footpath, between canyon and forest (it was all very meta). Along the way, I foraged branches, wildflowers, grasses, and anything that sparked my interest.
Finally, we set up house in my secret place—weathered table, shears, collected and cut flowers– and my friend Bahareh of Ritter Collective captured my creative process. I tucked flowers and forages into a white ceramic compote, its surface occasionally “flawed” with traces of the potter’s hand. We played beautiful music and made the place our own. And the location, in turn, offered us so much to work with– a slice of forest, canyon, and shrub; an absolute flood of honeyed light. There were chalky rocks, abundant brush, and even some yucca, creamy white, in full bloom. A thick tangle of shrubbery and mesquite tree branches made us feel enclosed, gathered; our moment contained. The air carried a scent of spices— a sharp fragrance that was familiar and, at the same time, hard to place.
We later discovered the source, a juniper tree. It was the great blessing of our shoot, and as I cut the blue berry branches, the fragrance was released into the air. It stained my hands and dress and absolutely made the floral composition fall into place. That’s the wonderful thing about a shoot that’s as improvisational as ours more or less was. Spontaneous or process shoots place greater demands on your creativity and your ability to just ‘make it work’ in the given moment. But oftentimes there is some blessing—some thing you couldn’t have accounted for—that falls on your path or process like magic. Things like juniper berries, or honeyed light, or the gracious wind that sometimes ruffled my dress or played with my hair during these very poetic moments.
By shoot’s end, as the light faded around us, the moon bloomed over the canyon, full and silver. Moonlight fell on our table, my white dress, and the trail of petals we’d left behind. It was all very ethereal, very calming, and we felt we’d touched something outside of ourselves.
Creativity won’t always do this for you, but it will always be a welcome retreat from daily life. Better yet is when we begin to place our creative touch on our daily lives—so that reality feels less and less like something we need to retreat from. I believe we all need occasional refuge and quiet time. But these days I’m not as inclined to the girlish notions of escape and make believe. No, I’m even more interested in blurring the lines between what I create and how I live. I’m interested in creating a life I need less retreating from. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, but one worth meditating on—that we are co-artists of our days and therefore our lives. It’s worth creating one that we like.
Thanks, Bahareh, for capturing the beyond beautiful photos & moment.