“Draw a Monument”

Carol A. Hand

It was a July morning in 2011. An odd group of faculty, mostly from the English and art departments of a university, gathered for an in-service to learn how to use art as a vehicle for unlocking people’s stories. The instructor began.

You have two minutes to draw the first thing that comes to mind for each of the words or phrases I mention. Don’t worry about technique. That will just interfere with your ability to tap what is most important to you.

Draw the ‘safe place when you were a child.’ Draw ‘pressure – the pressure you feel from all of the demands that you deal with in your life.’ Now, draw a ‘monument.’”

For me, the images I drew that day were all linked to nature, to the natural world. That has always been my source of balance and solace in times of challenge and uncertainty. And now, as nature is threatened ever more by forces of exploitive disregard and destruction, it’s hard to hold on to a sense of hope and peace some days.

Unlike my colleagues, I didn’t draw an edifice of marble or concrete, I drew a tree – a living monument of what helps us survive on this planet. If Jared Diamond’s (2005) thesis is accurate, could it be that one of the final death knells for societies is the destruction of the forests that blanket the earth and give us all oxygen to breathe?


Photo: My beloved old willow tree after it lost a huge branch in the wind – June 5, 2015

“The process through which past societies have undermined themselves by damaging their environments fall into eight categories, whose relative importance differs from case to case: deforestation and habitat destruction, soil problems (erosion, salinization, and soil fertility losses), water management problems, overhunting, overfishing, effects of introduced species on native species, human population growth, and increased per-capita impact of people” (Diamond, p. 6)

“The environmental problems facing us today include the same eight that undermined past societies, plus four new ones: human-caused climate change, buildup of toxic chemicals in the environment, energy shortages, and full human utilization of Earth’s photosynthetic capacity” (Diamond, p. 7)

I believe that many people feel the risks we face, but don’t know what they can do. I ask myself what I can do in a world controlled by the intensifying invasive tentacles of psychopathic corporate environmental destruction. I don’t have an answer. I ponder this question as I work on saving what I can in my own yard first – the years of neglect and expedient solutions – burying garbage (old concrete slabs, glass, nails, and shingles) and covering the landscape with a variety of invasive plants and trees that have been neglected for decades by people who were simply doing the best they could with the knowledge and resources they had.

Often it feels pointless and selfish to spend my days trying to preserve what I can and clean up messes. As a retired change agent, I often feel I should be doing something “more important” on a larger scale – on a community, state or national level. But I don’t have answers for others. I need time for healing and reflection. (For now, I have the luxury to do so, if I’m willing to live very simply. I can’t remove the storm windows by myself or afford to replace them, but I can plant flowers in the flowerboxes beneath them.)


Photo: July 10, 2015

As I work at grueling physical labor,
I watch my thoughts and feelings,
I sweat and swear,
Laugh at myself and my struggles – and find peace,
Sometimes present and other times floating in memories of past times and places,
Talking to plants and earthworms,
To the robins that are watching
Eagerly waiting to explore the earth I’ve just uncovered
And swatting at mosquitoes (I’m sorry to say).

I arise the next morning knowing there are still new jobs to be done. There is no ego or allure of fame and fortune involved. I know what I am doing will not save us from the future, but it gives me comfort to know that around the globe, people are tending the earth with hard work and loving care. Living simply and breathing love into the work we do whatever it might be – it’s what we can do for ourselves and the future of our grandchildren and our world.

“Actually, while it won’t be easy to reduce our impact, it won’t be impossible either. Remember that impact is the product of two factors: population, multiplied times impact per person.” (Diamond, p. 524)

The trees and the gardens we tend and the love we breathe into the world around us are the most important monuments we can leave.

Work Cited:

Jared Diamond (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York, NY: Viking Penguin.


35 thoughts on ““Draw a Monument”

  1. I love your willow tree as an image and as a symbol of re-grounding the self. Your attention to the global problem of carelessness about our natural environment is a form of action: a pointed pause for reflection on our own actions. You say, “Often it feels pointless and selfish to spend my days trying to preserve what I can and clean up messes.” But it is not pointless at all. Change starts small and begins at home. As Voltaire, the 18th Century French Enlightenment author put it, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin” (We must cultivate our garden). We all need guided reminders in this area from time to time. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I appreciate your thoughtful comments, Anne. I agree that “change starts small and begins at home” – still, the magnitude of change that needs to happen sometimes makes it difficult to figure out where to start. I love the Voltaire quote you shared 🙂


  2. I was moved to tears when I found out that there is a flower in your garden that was planted for me and now it makes me smile…daily. Your hard work has made a wonderful difference in our little neighborhood. Thank You Carol!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Shirley – both for your kind words and for inspiring me to plant another geranium to replace the one you tended with such care last year.


    1. Thank you for your ever-kind words, Cindy and for sharing such inspiring photos that remind others of the beauty and “healing properties of natural places.” ❤


  3. I loved coming home to this post. I was running errands on foot this morning and mile after mile found myself absolutely captured by the trees I passed, all the details of bark and trunk and root and leaves that you miss from the car or bus window. So I second the motion — the only monuments I want to see are trees (and rock formations)!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love your story about noticing the details about the tress you passed on your walk today, Diane. And yes, rock formations are important monuments as well (with the exception of Mount Rushmore that really represents something other than nature 🙂 ).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful post and it reflects the same questions I ask myself almost on a daily basis…in a way, knowing is depressing: if we are courageous enough to see what’s in front of us, we know there is no way we can turn things around. Not this time: we have crossed all the boundaries…at the same time, there are so many out there doing extraordinary things that part of us fills with joy and hope for what may be coming.
    There are many things we cannot do and there are many we can…when you live in the rain forest of BC like I do and have experienced months of drought, are surrounded by wildfires and haze and see the trees stressed and almost not copying, it is difficult to find that joy….still, as you say, put flowers under the windows. Nobody really knows the outcome, what matters is the now

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Knowing is depressing – but I still believe there is hope if enough people awake. Sometimes new life does emerge from the ashes of forest fires, wolves change the course of rivers, and bison create new life by trampling the old. As you wisely point out, nobody knows the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree, Carol. A connection to the natural world is therapeutic. A place to both express and balance your emotions. It is also a reminder and a metaphor for the human condition. Wonderful post (and perfect monument :))

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you Carol! As usual your writings are marvellous! And you are doing something very important by sharing this in this space, because you are reminding us (people from all over the world) these essential facts! Thank you and keep enjoying Mother Nature! Our Home.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I so understand the need to be in nature and tend to it. It is very therapeutic and I also, talk to the little critters 😉 Working in our gardens and listening to the birds’ merry songs brings us back to a calm in our thoughts and hearts. Very well said, dear Carol!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. This is beautiful, Carol. It’s funny though isn’t it, how nature soothes us and yet we can’t live in it. It’s a beautiful thing to look at, the earth but she’s cruel and vindictive. A field, lush with flowers filled with biting and stinging insects, ticks, and snakes, poison ivy and chiggers, an ocean beach with man-o-wars and sharks just hungry for a bite to eat, a pond to swim in with snapping turtles and water moccasins, alligators or leeches. I’m not sure we’re originally from this planet, but it’s beautiful nonetheless.

    Thanks for sharing your moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for this inspiring article. I would like to ask you to allow me to translate it into Spanish and use it in my classes.

    If I knew how to draw, and I have to draw a place I felt safe in my childhood that will be my dad’s garden. it was a peaceful place full of many varieties of roses. Thank you for helping me to bring back those memories and make me to want to start gardening again.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Adrian, thank you so much for such lovely comments. I am deeply grateful to know that you remembered your safe place as a child. It sounds beautiful. I hope you are able to find time to start gardening again 🙂

      You certainly have my permission to translate the article for your classes. I’m honored that you want to share it.


  10. A very thought provoking article. It’s true I think humanity is losing touch with nature, which is a very worrying concept fuelled by large corporations like Monsanto. It’s through writing like yours that people can see this and reidentify with nature and start living sustainably and in tune with nature and in turn rediscovering the inner beauty of this notion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Equality. I agree that we need to reconnect with nature and learn to live more simply and sustainably. I appreciate the resources you share on your blog that help more us in that direction 🙂


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