It started with a pinecone.
Then came an apple peel.
I found the pinecone in a park, and decided to take it home to sketch it, or maybe make something out of it. As I walked to the car, I discovered an unusual drying apple peel, a complete circle that suggested the apple inside had just shriveled up and fallen out. I stood my pinecone in the red peel. Cool. Even closer to the car, I found a bumper crop of shed gingko leaves. I grabbed a cluster. Then a memory surfaced: the simple joy of making a centerpiece for a Girl Scout campout.
A traditional camping experience involves dividing the troop into “patrols” or teams, and assigning each patrol different duties, such as cooking, fire duty, the dreaded meal cleanup, and the even more dreaded latrine duty. (The first time I had latrine duty, which means sweeping out spiders and toilet-paper-misses, I was 10 years old. I stepped into a rickety shack that housed a wooden bench with two side-by-side holes cut in. I thought, first of all, I’m not peeing side-by-side nobody; second, there are way too many creepy crawlers in here; and third, I’m not showing my butt to no black-hole monster. Bye-bye.)
Back to the centerpiece. One of the most enjoyable, though seemingly superfluous, duties was making a centerpiece for each picnic table for the campout dinner. While other patrols were getting poison ivy-ied on their firewood search, or stirring up the mystery meat, the “hostess” patrol would skip through the hinterlands gathering the forest’s freebies— feathers, acorns, pebbles—to fashion into a clever and attractive, um—thing.
Our centerpieces never became museum pieces, but those wobbly constructions offered a few valuable lessons. Life is abundant. Beauty is important. Simple is beautiful. Joy lies in the process—the hinterlands, the skipping, the gathering, the arranging.
So I carried my pinecone, peel, and leaves back to a picnic table. With the daylight quickly fading, I had little time for my usual creative-process waffling. I had to create, and it had to be fast. As if by magic, the gingko leaves spun themselves into a glorious yellow rose, which I arranged in the apple peel vase. The pinecone, refusing to cooperate and stand upright in the picnic table crack, ended up pining (hee-hee) for the rose. And the sky, that ever-generous chef, yielded on cue perfect slices of cantaloupe.