I’ve been kind of into poisons for a while. (And by ‘kind of’ I mean ‘read every book on the subject I could find in the name of ‘research’ for my ‘novel.’) Yesterday I hauled my unsociable, city-phobic self to San Francisco to attend a talk at the Conservatory of Flowers called The Fine Art of Poisoning. It was accompanied by the Wicked Plants exhibit (open until Oct. 30), which is a garden full of naughty plants.
I went with my friend Emily, a science illustrator who is outrageously talented at talking her way into things. She told the director that we would draw/write about the event, so we were able to go in between the time the Conservatory was formally closed to the public and the beginning of the event. Solitude in exchange for a blog post? Score.
Inside it was lush, humid, green, and luminously silent after the roar of the city. We were the only people around. We admired spiky lily pads, silvery striped leaves, carnivorous pitcher plants, and tree ferns. We stroked velvety leaves and breathed in the rich, loamy smells of plant life and death.
The poison garden itself was a bit disappointing. Although there were a few exotics, most of the plants looked very familiar. Foxgloves, diffenbachia, lily pads, lantana, ivy. Emily chose to draw some snakey-looking pitcher plants with hungry red mouths. I’m usually too intimidated by Emily’s mad art skills (check out her science illustration blog to see her pitcher plants — they should be up soon) to draw with her, but I settled on some more mundane foxgloves. I enjoy sketching but rarely make the time for it. Time seems to pass differently when I’m drawing. The afternoon light faded while we sketched, and the only reason I noticed was that the shadows on the flowers changed.
Although I was originally hoping for more from the exhibit, I’ve realized that one of its points is that poisonous plants are so very common that they’re literally under our noses the whole time. We think they’re boring because we’ve stopped looking at them, learning about them, asking questions about them. Or because we’ve never started.
Sometimes it seems like we’ve fallen out of love with our planet. Maybe we’ve just stopped really looking at it. In the past few weeks, I’ve been busy tree-watching. The trees in my neighborhood are not particularly interesting and striking trees, but the more I look at them, the more I learn about how they live and why they matter. All these quiet, slow activities — drawing, tree-watching — remind me of one thing: pay enough attention, and it’s impossible to be bored on this planet.
I’ll be back soon with a virtual tree walk through my neighborhood. I hope you’re all well this autumn.