Forest Sketch

This post was originally published in May, 2013


On one of my forest walks, I came upon an elderly gentleman who was standing by the trail, gazing up at a gnarly bigleaf maple. It was one of those Seattle-summer days when the sun comes out unexpectedly, and after weeks of dismal gray, the world was in full-color once again. The whole forest was glowing.

As I passed, the man tipped his hat to me in a polite, old-fashioned way that seemed out-of-place in West Seattle. He must be from a foreign country. Or at least, a foreign time.

“You know what I wish?” he asked, smiling. “I wish I was an artist. I wish I could paint this!” He swept his hand across the lovely scene.

I stood with him for a moment admiring the lumpy, twisted old maple. The sunlight was filtering through the leafy canopy, falling in streaks against the brilliant moss-covered trunk. I imagined painting the tree, how I would drag brushloads of sap green over raw umber to capture the colors and play of light.

I was just about to share my art-thoughts with him when I noticed his eyes had teared up a little. “I want to remember this tree,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but by the time I get home, I’ll have forgotten. It’ll all be lost…like it never existed. If I was an artist, I could paint this and take it home with me. I’d have it forever.”

I realized we weren’t really talking about art at all, but about how it feels when things we love slip away. Was he afraid his beautiful world was disappearing…being erased into blankness?

He was still standing with the old maple when I continued on my walk. I hope he remembers his tree.

I wish I had painted it for him.


An acrylic sketch I did of a maple in one of Seattle’s beautiful forested parks. This one didn’t have a mossy trunk, but it was beautiful anyway.



A sad note to end this story…

A few weeks ago, I learned that this same gentleman — a well-known park visitor — was knocked over and badly injured by a couple of (illegally) off-leash dogs in this same park.

Increasingly, people are treating urban natural areas as places to let their dogs run free. It is only a minority of the dogs that cause damage or injury, but that minority is causing serious problems—not only to other visitors but to the plants and wildlife that depend on these natural areas for survival. For that reason, ALL dogs need to be leashed where the law requires it. Unless everyone cooperates, those few trouble-makers will simply say “Everyone does it.”

Please. Leash. Your. Pets.

It is your responsibility.


10 thoughts on “Forest Sketch

  1. What a nice story and beautiful painting. It seems as though you accompanied this man’s soul in his spiritual journey, even when he hasn’t seen the painting. And he shared this love for the tree with you, something I’ve noticed it’s unusual with these intimate moments some of the elderly have with nature. Perhaps it was your presence there that prompted the comment?

    • Yes, this man was connecting very strongly with nature’s beauty. It was very sweet and kind of sad. I guess we all want to cling to things we love…but ultimately, we cannot.

      • Yet, for me, nature is like a communion, some form of extension of ‘ourselves’, or maybe ‘connection’ is the word. I think dying people do get a grasp of this. I think humans ultimately take this beauty on a conscious or unconscious level with them before they die, when the ‘battle’ with reason finally ceases… The physical world is there, but egoless.

        • I agree…that is a lovely way to look at it. I’m not sure this man was dying—I hope not—but he was certainly contemplating life and loss. It’s one of the good things about having quiet natural spaces left in the city. It’s so healthy to have places where nature can help you think about these things.

          • You have no idea how much I agree on this. But don’t you think artists suffer the most? They see the beauty in places where many don’t; but on top of that, they have to feel it even deeper because of their sensitive souls.

          • So true! Sometimes I wish I were less sensitive…it would be easier to just not notice or care when things get trashed. Anyway…for now, I’ll just spend as much time in our beautiful forests as I can!

  2. Your description of that wonderful gentleman almost made me tear up, myself. I find myself lost in such reveries, staring at our magnificent trees — but I hope he wasn’t pining for their potential loss, but appreciating their beauty and wisdom.

    How amazing it would be if you get the opportunity to see him again, to show him your beautiful art….

  3. Dear Denise,
    As always I admire your art work and enjoy your observations and musings. They brightens my days.
    It seems to me that by now you would have material for a booklet, or even book. Thus, long distance hikers would know what to look out for. And you would reach, and entice an even bigger circle of nature lovers to watch out for the small, sometimes hidden wonders.
    The Best to you!

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