by Kathleen Bradean
Way back, when I lived in Oklahoma, there was the long way to school on paved streets, or there was the shortcut through open fields of sweetly scented prairie grass and a little gully with a stream and trees. Guess which one I took? Even though it meant sitting on the front porch pulling burrs off my knee-high white cotton socks and a search for tics before I was allowed in the house, I always went the short route. Of course, it took me much longer than walking the "long" route because I had to check the creek for crawdads, climb into the rotting tree fort, stop and listen to the meadowlarks, catch a horned toad, and sing songs I made up at the spur of the moment at the top of my lungs. Back then, I didn't care that I couldn't sing. The songs poured out of me like stories. I can't even remember what I sang about. I just did it.
I miss that effortless creativity. I don't understand why it went away. Or maybe I remember doing it more often than I did and I've always had uneven spurts of output. All I know is that sometimes I try to be creative and it just doesn’t work. It's not an on-off switch. It's not a bottomless well I can draw from forever. But I do know that it can be coaxed out if I don't try too hard. All I need is a little soul food.
When it feels as if my soul has run dry, I usually turn to nature. A visit to the Huntington Library does me a world of good. If it's winter, the camellias are in bloom. I've never seen a camellia I didn't like. And the succulent garden is in bloom. It's amazing to see the delicate flowers such prickly plants produce. In spring, wisteria covered walkways offer fragrant, cool tunnels of green and purple. Koi, living jewels, leisurely swim under lily pads in quiet pools. Hidden waterfalls burble like laughter under ferns and tropical leaves. In the Japanese garden, a moon bridge arches gracefully over a reflecting pool. And then there's the Zen garden - white stones raked carefully in rippled lines to represent water, boulders arranged to look like mountain peaks above the clouds, and in the background, a Japanese maple or an azalea, lending a spot of color to a monochromatic canvass. And then there's the library. They have a Gutenberg Bible, one of the original Audubon books, illuminated Book of the Hours, and even the Canterbury Tales.
I don't sing out loud any more, but as I stroll through the Shakespeare garden or the roses, I can feel my soul humming along - or maybe that's purring with content.