It’s taken me a whole lot of frivolous spending and a deeper appreciation of the short life-span of my favorite flowers to realize it.
I remember a newspaper column by Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman I read many years ago, when I was in my early 20s and I thought 30 was old, about how she measured the rest of her life in lilac blooms. Goodman hoped she had at least another twenty lilac blooms to go. I thought this was the strangest thing I’d ever heard.
But now that I’m on the back side of forty, I understand.
As the iris bed I planted last August begins to reap museum-quality beauty each morning, and then fades within a day or two, I understand. Another year. An entire year before I will see them again. Another year older, if I’m so blessed.
Crocus. Daffodils. Tulips. Flowering crab trees. Lilacs. Poppies. Peonies. Irises. I cherish the succession.
Each of my lovely blooms last just a few exquisite days. I look forward to each of them like a child looks forward to a visit from Santa. I wake up each morning, grab my camera, and run outside to see what is opening, what has blossomed over night, what is peaking and what is fading.
I photograph each beautiful iris bloom in dusky morning light and in full afternoon sun. I marvel at the irises’ frilly apricot standards, the fuzzy lavender and pale yellow caterpillar beards, veins of fuchsia and purple speckled falls.
This year is especially poignant for me. For the past two months, I have been watching as my mother’s mind slowly slips away, succumbing to the final throes of dementia. She has been staying with me a week now. While she has been frustrated, fearful, angry, sobbing, sometimes all of the above, I have seen her soothed by the familiarity of my garden. She remembers the peonies of her grandmother’s garden. She felt the satisfaction of mimicking me, as I planted container gardens. She recognized the feathery Cosmos seedlings, just three inches high.
My poppies are thick and lush right now, as they are each Memorial Day weekend. The tight round balls of luscious pink peonies always follow in the first days of June. It’s a succession you can count on like Monday follows Sunday.
These are the luxuries that I cherish.
Flower blooms are free to everyone. A beautiful peony is no more beautiful to the rich man as it is to the poor. In a world of technology that moves at warp speed and dissolves in the seconds of a Snapchat snap, moments spent observing the smallest details of a flower petal are savored.
I try not to think of how many more magnificent lilac blooms I will enjoy, how many opportunities I have to inhale their delicious perfume. As I see my mother follow the same path my grandmother took with Alzheimer’s, I wonder if I, too, will slip away too soon. But then I pull my attention back to this day, this moment. I am grateful to enjoy this bloom. I wake up each morning, a little earlier to see what’s blossomed.
I hope you do, too. Because time is the ultimate luxury.
Here’s the thing I find about nature. As you look more closely at it, when you let your mind be still, training your gaze only on what is right in front of you, in just a moment that singularity of focus turns appreciation into wonder. That’s when the magic happens.
When I kneel down to take a closer look at a daffodil and notice a tiny dew drop clinging to its bright orange trumpet, the rest of the world falls away. It happens to me all the time…the shock of a lone red speckled mushroom in a sea of green forest, the neon chartreuse fur of a moss-covered rock, a gnarly, decaying log full of holes where an entire mini-universe could exist, the pleasant tinkle and splash of a stream, burbling over shiny wet stones. Wonders abound, for those who look.
“Discovering magic in nature can be done anywhere. Be it a garden the size of a postage stamp, or acres and acres of fields and woodland. The Wood is my world, and one I enjoy sharing with others.” — Pamela Harden
My friend, illustrator Pamela Harden, author of the Whippety Wood books, is a master of capturing these tiny moments and turning them into something wondrous, and yes, magical. She is a creator of worlds as they should be, and I love her for it. I knew immediately after finishing my interview with Lauren Delaney, that I wanted Pamela to be May’s featured artist!
Tell me about your passion for art. Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I have always wanted to be an illustrator, and have never done anything else. I probably never concerned myself with the fear of supporting myself through illustrating. I was young and naïve enough to think that if I did something that I enjoyed, I certainly would get paid enough to support my passion.
I have been fortunate enough to find outlets for my work in books and magazines, and met some of the most talented and interesting writers and editors ever. It has always been a joy to work with those incredible people. I was a freelance illustrator for more than 30 years and then I decided to chance my hand at writing my own stories as well as illustrating them.
Thus, the Whippety Wood was born. I have been able to create all sorts of animal characters and always try to make them as believable as possible. Keeping the traits of the individual animal is important. I am not interested in making them completely human, but want to give them a voice, and express what I think their feelings might be, in an entertaining way.
You and I share a mutual love for animals, especially our beloved terriers. Through art I can give voice to their thoughts and feelings in a unique way. All creatures of the earth are able to convey their feelings without words Animals are filled with merriment and joy. The Wood is a perfect place to allow them to exhibit those feelings.
I’m curious to know about your childhood in the UK & US. What were you like? How did you recognize that you could channel your love of nature into art?
I think I probably had a rather idyllic childhood. Both my parents enjoyed the great outdoors and shared that passion with my sister and I. Being keen on learning, drawing, painting, and playing in nature was first and foremost for me. I was always fascinated by Beatrix Potter, Native American art, and anything illustrated by John Wesley Dennis. I was always drawing or painting from an early age.
My grandfather taught me all about wild flowers, wild birds and the plethora of wildlife that surrounded his farm. I was encouraged to illustrate those very subjects that I enjoyed so much. Any attempt was considered a masterpiece, and I grew to love doing those field studies.
I was also one of those children who just knew that Santa Claus or Father Christmas was definitely real, at least as real as fairies, elves, wizards, and magical animals. I have always considered nature to be magical. Just how amazing is it to see a tiny bird hatch from a beautiful egg, or a glorious flower spring from a seed. That certainly is magic!
I’m like that, too. I still believe in Santa. You’ve lived in both the UK and the midwest, here in the US. What are some of the differences you find in your natural surroundings?
In the USA we have always lived in the countryside and in the UK, we have lived a rural life in tiny villages or in the country. I cannot imagine living in a town or city. We are country bumpkins for certain!
Many of the same species of mammals live in both countries. Some, like badgers, are slightly different in appearance, but many are the same. The countryside is different in the US and the UK. Or, at least it feels different to me. There are still woods, streams, mountains, hills and dales, but there is a sense of a different sort of history behind the countryside in each place.
Some parts of the UK bring to mind the ancient history of animals, people, places, and events so far removed from today’s world. I find tremendous inspiration in the old folk tales from Scotland, England, and Wales. Indeed the Whippety Wood was influenced by a Scottish folk tale.
Here in Wisconsin the countryside is farmland, open, green, and surrounded by woods. The woods here are dense with oak, ash, huckleberry, pines, spruce, and cherry. It is a new world feel with a more recent human history. There is enough material from both continents to supply me with all the creative fodder I need!
I do observe as many animals as I can on our many hikes around the woods and fields we call home. Because we live in a very rural area, I have constant inspiration for new story ideas and illustrations. I find the Whippety Wood a complete joy and comfortable place to create a world that I should want to live in (and really do, for the most part). It contains all the good parts of the world, without any of the bad.
Tell me about why you created the Whippety Wood.
When I created the Whippety Wood, it was intended to help connect both children and adults with the natural world around them.
With a burgeoning world population and ever decreasing wild spaces to explore, it seemed a good idea to introduce the world of nature in a new and entertaining way.
Children in particular, are inundated with images from an electronic screen in one form or another. Many have never seen a fox, badger, bear, or any other animal in their natural habitat. My first ABC book was intended to address that very issue, but in an exciting, entertaining, and visual way.
It was also intended to open a dialog between child and parent or an older sibling. Now I am able to combine my love of dogs, and Scottish Terriers in particular, with my wild creatures in the Whippety Wood. It allows my imagination to run amok among the hundreds and hundreds of animals who might inhabit the Wood.
As you know, I grew up with Scottish Terriers, too. We Scottie lovers are a breed apart. I will go so far as to say THE MOST over-the-top breed enthusiasts in the world! Surprisingly though, I met you through a friend who thought I might like your work because I’m a big fan of tiny worlds, like Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge.
I only found out about our shared love of Scotties after I started following you. In fact, I bought one of your prints, Sinclair meeting Martin Mole, before we ever met. I have it hanging in my office and it always makes me smile.
I like to say that your friendship is a gift my dogs gave me. We really got to know each other when my new Cairn Puppy, Weezy visited the Whippety Wood. I have a whole Weezy-wall art gallery in my house.
When did you fall in love with Scotties? What is it you admire most about Scotties and/or terriers as a breed? Tell us how you started incorporating them into the Whippety Wood.
We have had Scotties for more than 40 years, and cannot envision a life void of Scotties. Not only do they bring us contentment, joy, and fun, but they make our life complete. Rupert is 12 and was born into a litter of 6 puppies.
He was and is a true outdoorsman. As a pup he could barely find the time to bother eating as it interfered with his hunting and chasing. He is obsessed with hunting anything that moves. He has honed his hunting skills to a fine art.
He is patient, listens carefully for movement in the grass, or under the snow, pounces at exactly the right moment, and has dispatched more mice than I care to know! He also sounds like someone is torturing him when he chases rabbits or squirrels. It is a true passion for him! Rupert has an alter-ego in the Wood called Sinclair. Sinclair was the first official Scottie to be featured in the Whippety Wood and has become a permanent fixture there. The boldness, cleverness, intelligence, independence, and sense of humour, have all made terriers the perfect dogs for the Wood.
At this point in my life, I think that all the adventures, stories, and illustrations that I do for the Whippety Wood are the most rewarding. It is an ever-changing and challenging way to live my life. I often find myself saying, “That would never happen in the Wood!” or “I am off to the Wood!”
I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next. I hope my pups will make a return visit to the Wood soon. Thank you so much for sharing your Whippety Wood with us, Pamela. And Happy 13th Birthday to the magnificent Rupert!!! We love you both.
From Good Reads:
Inspired by nature, Pamela Harden has been an illustrator for more than twenty-five years in the United States and United Kingdom. She and her husband are avid hikers and star-gazers who enjoy the magic of nature every day in their own Whippety Wood in rural Wisconsin, where they live with their Scottie, Rupert.
Welcome to the magical world of the Whippety Wood. Located deep in the highlands of Scotland, the wood is home to the Whippety fairies. A host of colourful woodland characters also dwell within the wood.
ABC’s from The Whippety Wood is a silver medalist in the Moonbeam awards and Living Now awards for best Children’s ABC and picture books. This vibrant picture book will inspire a deeper appreciation of the natural world, while it teaches children the fundamentals of language in a way that is engaging, entertaining and enlightening.