16x20” framed digital illustration
Procreate on iPad
When I was really little, my grandparents purchased a house on a lake. I spent most weekends and evenings with my grandparents, as my parents both worked long hours.
On their (to my five year old eyes) enormous chunk of land, I spent my weekends collecting snails, watching water striders, picking up leaves to press, crafting with bits of rocks or shells I found on our nature walks.
My grandfather has formed so much of who I am. Not a single person in my family has a drop of artistic talent, except him.
He instilled in me a love of the natural world, teaching me to recognize birds by their song.
This tree was the only one of its kind on their property. All the other trees were conifers, pines. The odd Maple.
But THIS one.
This one sparkled when the wind blew, the leaves dancing to my young eyes from out on the lake. The dark leaves contrasted with their white underbellies. Or was it the other way around?
I remember him calling it a poplar, but I haven’t been able to identify it.
My grandparents had to move closer to town, as my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, and so much driving is tiresome. My 10 year old heart was just broken; no one ever told me my grandfather was sick, until he was about a month away from dying.
Many years later, my grandparents long gone, it’s come to pass that my authentic queer identity is not accepted by my family.
I know, deep in my bones, that the two people who tended and cared for my “sparkle tree”, wouldn’t have hated my sparkle heart.
My entire extended family lives around where my grandparents had their place on the lake.
I can never go back.
The only place I have ever felt at home, I can never visit again.
I’ve been trying to piece together the memory of this tree for 30 years. In starting and thinking about this piece, I thought to myself, “I am going to do a perfect photo representation of the tree, and it’s going to be beautiful, and it’s going to capture the memory perfectly.” Because that’s what I do. Judge my own work by how “perfect” it is.
I set out to take pictures of trees that I felt like looked similar, not being able to remember exactly what he had identified it as, and not being able to ask any family members either.
I drove for miles around this area, taking reference photos of any tree I found that looked similar to what I remembered, and agonized that I was never going to be able to recreate this memory. Even some photos I found in an old album (the background to my piece is actually my grandparents’ old place) - I screamed when I found this album! The thing is though: it’s winter in the photo! No sparkle leaves.
I realized, in my incessant and obsessive mental cataloguing, and then photographing, of trees that approximate my decades-old memory, that what I was doing was the art. A “perfect” image would never be good enough to me, anyway.
My piece is the 30 year culmination of me trying to recreate this memory that I can never revisit in the flesh, despite the fact that it’s less than 40 kms away.
Words can’t really describe the grief I felt in creating this piece.
Everyone deserves a home.