Some days, the bright cellphone screen leaves a burn behind my eyes and the highway traffic soundscape deadens my mind. People need me to do things—commitments to be fulfilled, voices playing ping-pong inside my head. The senses numb just to cope. It’s all too loud, and I’m straining to hear a tiny something that knocks at the door of my heart.
In a garden, on a trail, at the art table: in these moments the senses reawaken. Rain over the parched desert. The tiny something grows there, too. It pushes through caliche and reaches for blue-gray clouds. It becomes a creative force. The fruits? A story, a painting, a glimmer of insight.
When I observe nature, whether through drawing or writing, I push aside the clutter of this human life to pour my attention into a single moment. I am pulled into the present, into the physical, living world that has always been before me, whether or not I chose to bend down on hands and knees to notice.
To observe is to venture out and collect idea flowers. Later, I will take them home and arrange them in a vase. I will dry and press them between pages of memory, flowers so violet I hope to keep them everlasting. Sure, there are other tasks to be done. There are emails to be written and clothes to be washed. But this flower picking is a meditative act requiring the mind to hush all tangential thoughts, to forget calendar due dates, and make space for a single point in space and time. Lizard peering from a crevice. Verdin weaving a nest. Bee pollinating a nasturtium. I return to Earth, this tangible place.
In a school garden, third graders lean over broccoli flowers. They are on a quest to notice five new things about this patch, with its pink peach blossoms and strutting white chickens. How different from the classroom, where so little moves without human intervention: the pencils, the whiteboard, the flashcards. In the garden, you never know what will lift from the soil and flutter through your hair.
The class spies one honeybee pollinating in dappled light, sacks of orange pollen on little bee legs. I ask, how does the bee move? The children write furiously on their clipboards, words like push, grab, up-down-up-down. They offer their earnest attention to so small a creature. They squint, they study, they inch closer. A tiny something beckons.
Saraiya's Bee Lunes lesson works well for groups with access to a patch of nature or school garden. It emphasizes close observation and uses the poem “Intimate Detail” by Heid Erdrich as a literary model. In this lesson, students write lunes, a short haiku-like form of poetry, about Sonoran Desert bees. This lesson includes a coloring sheet for an art project.
Saraiya Kanning is a creative writer and visual artist with an interest in wildlife and ecology. As an educator, she seeks to inspire students with joy and curiosity for art making. She often highlights the intersection of art and science in her workshops and enjoys facilitating writing exercises that celebrate Sonoran Desert ecology. Kanning holds an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Arizona, where she taught undergraduate writing workshops. In 2015, she placed first in the Tucson Festival of Books Literary Awards for the short story “Awakening.” As a journalist, her work has appeared in The Nature Conservancy, Birding, Edible Baja Arizona, and DesertLeaf. She teaches silk painting at The Drawing Studio. You can view her visual art at raebirdcreations.com.