I’m Jen Herzig Smith and I create ink and art with plants from my garden. I live in the beautiful Northeast Los Angeles community of Eagle Rock on Tongva land. There are a few mugwort leaves under my pillow. I’m especially fond of the daily tools I use, like MD notebooks and two LAMY fountain pens. I love the wildness in the garden, the work that I do and have a few stories to share.
As I’m still waking up, I crack open the door. Lily, the dog, takes one sniff, makes a u-turn and goes back to bed. I’ve been drawn by an urgent high pitch chirp coming from the large elderly deodar cedar that shades the garden. Initially it sounds like one voice. As I stop and listen I can hear another kind of chirping close by, faintly. And another. And another. Beyond those voices is a full chorus of chattering young birds harmonizing with the rushing freeway in the distance. It’s still dark outside. The candle is lit, at both ends, as the rest of the family sleeps. I make my way into the garden and Lily is suddenly there, in search of lizards. I start to notice what’s going on this morning. The poppies are a little taller. For the first time, there are purple flowers on stems jutting out from under the bottom of the black sage. Near the soap plant is the tiniest of mushrooms peeking up in the middle of the path. There is a hummingbird nest on the tip of a cedar branch, swaying just above the hummingbird sage. The slight breeze reminds me that I have skin. I walk over to the porch and pull out my poetry notebook.
MD notebook with Frame. The border is just enough to keep the writing in.
The snap pad is a new tool for me. I’m enjoying the ease and flexibility that it offers.
As I walk with the kind man, who makes medicine with plants, I’m focusing on what I can learn. Taking in every word as we make our way along the trail. There are four of us. Another woman carrying a young baby, the man and me. He doesn’t say much, except to point out certain plants along the way and explain a little bit about each one. The soil beneath our feet is a medium shade of reddish brown. California plantain dots the fields that surround us. I’m camping with a large group of people. Many of them I don’t know. I was invited by a friend and decided that it could be fun to camp in the Sequoia’s with my kids for a week. This kind of gathering of people isn’t something I seek out. In fact, being with a bunch of people that I don’t know is a bit frightening. As we walk, the man and the other woman start talking. My mind wanders and when I come back into the conversation I hear him say that women don’t listen anymore. It takes me by surprise and I also recognize that what he’s saying is filled with wisdom, not spite. I start thinking about when I was younger, and how I would listen more and speak less. And how it’s more difficult now. I share this with him and he nods his head up and down with a hmmm. We continue on our way, walking quietly back to camp.
I am reminded everyday with my customized Traveler’s notebook.
I notice nettle showing up in the garden. This particular nettle loves the area by the chicken coop, near the fence that lines the neighbors concrete driveway. This part of the garden soaks in the sun from the West. The cedar branches, that are old and large, sit way up high, unable to provide respite from the intense afternoon heat. When I’ve seen nettle on trails in California, the leaves are huge, often bigger than my hand and the height of the plant is at least up to my waist. The nettles that I notice in our yard are much smaller. They send themselves out far and thin. As I bring more native plants into the garden, I decide to replace the small (dwarf) nettle with California nettle. Although I chuckle a little at how this sounds redundant, in my heart I know that it’s essential. Replacing dwarf nettle with California nettle is a little gift that the earth needs right now. Along with other kinds of seeds, I sprinkle nettle seeds into their own tray before planting them in the ground. California nettle is one of the first of the green sprouts to peek through the soil, in their own tray and many of the other trays they’ve hopped into. The nettle is so abundant that I plant them in all different parts of the garden, where they are now thriving. This particular nettle loves the morning sun from the east along with nuzzling the base of the cedar tree near our driveway.
Nettle brings beautiful color to the papers that I use in my work. The smallest MD notebook is the perfect size for one swatch of ink with a note on the other page.
Text and photos by: Jen Herzig Smith