Nature Poetics

Several years ago, when I chanced upon artist, Andy Goldsworthy's incredible site-specific installations and Daniel Schilkret's gorgeous morning altars wrought using materials from the landscape itself, I was inspired to create similar works myself. At that time, I called Delhi home and was going through a very challenging mental health period, struggling with frequent bouts of debilitating anxiety - and seeking refuge in nature became and continues to be a crucial way to address it. I lived in a DDA (Delhi Development Authority) colony in Sarita Vihar, which was once described as being the capital's greenest neighborhood. I could testify to this fact for there was so much greenery outside my flat alone: a huge peepal tree sang songs on windy nights while I spotted crows and squirrels merrily snacking on the fat bright red silk cotton flowers laden trees outside my study window.

When I took a walk in my DDA colony section, I would see a staggering variety of trees, each especially making themselves conspicuous during their respective flowering seasons: the harsingar, a carpet of white and orange flowers scenting the morning air, the kachnar which bloomed mauve and white, the fiery red gulmohur which marked the arrival of summer, dripping chandeliers of golden laburnum, fuschia powder-puffs, mauve, tissue-paper thin Pride of India, and the deeply intoxicating scent of the ivory hued Devil Tree, just to name a few. There were massive ancient banyan trees gracing the corners of parking lots while bigger parks revealed a grove of yellow tabebuia trees that competed with the sunlight during spring. And one of my most precious discoveries was discovering a jacaranda tree one dusk in a tiny pocket of a park, the cloud of mauve flowers silhouetted against one salmon pink April dusk one of my most precious memories. The neighborhood residents also maintained extensive gardens of their owns so the combination of these trees and plants provided me a lot of found material to work with and which I gratefully did so.

One of the first nature art-works I created in Delhi. I wish I knew the name of the flower.

I moved to Bangalore in January 2017 and was once more delighted to be surrounded by a similar abundance of foliage, to photograph and write about and whose endless rain of flowers, leaves, branches, seeds, and seed pods provided me an extensive palette to abstract art from. In my apartment compound alone, there were raintrees, african tulip, avocado, custard apple, jackfruit, jamun, starfruit, lipstick, junglee jalebi, and fig trees. Regular visits to the city's green lungs, Cubbon Park and Lalbagh as well as tree-rich spaces such as the IISC campus combined with even a stroll down one of the city's lanes yielded unending treasures. Bangalore's distinctive warm red soil meanwhile provided a wonderful backdrop to the art.

The work below was created using fallen figs and an African tulip bud from my apartment compound; there are two huge fig trees in the compound, each alternately fruiting a couple of times in a year. In the summer of 2017, I participated in an unique interdisciplinary project, which used performance to convey the essential role of wasps in fig tree pollination and fruiting and demonstrating how much of a cornerstone species ficus trees are in their environment. I documented the process here and meanwhile, created this little work below as a tribute to that project.

A fig made from figs

Apart from the fact that the art is eco-friendly and sustainable in the most literal sense, from a mental health perspective, the making of it also inspires a wonderful feeling of mindfulness and meditation. When I was a child, I loved doing jigsaw puzzles, the bigger, the better; as I grew older, I found the same joy I derived from puzzles when creating analogue paper collages. There was something intensely satisfying putting together by hand disparate images, colors, and patterns to produce a visual narrative, almost as if I was herding together all the thoughts randomly flying around in my head. I get the same feeling while doing so in nature art, identifying, collecting, and finally, putting together the found nature items. I never know how or what it is going to shape into and I feel that mysterious unknowability adds and enriches the experience. Of course, the difference is that the collages linger and the nature art is ephemeral but photographing the latter preserves them for posterity.

We are all unfinished jigsaws, created using fallen raintree leaves
Fifty Shades of Green, created using fallen kadamb tree leaves

In my first ever post for Scrollstack, I mentioned how I am enjoying working with the literal intersection of image and text while simultaneously expanding the idea of what a poem means to me. I have always written in response to or inspired by an image but I am now interested in placing the words inside the image itself. The other day, after having been confined to home due to endless rain, I went out for a much needed walk in our apartment compound, collected fallen flowers, and created this visual poem out of them.

Micro earth poem

The pandemic has obviously taken a significant toll on mental health, the implications manifesting themselves in myriad ways. I also feel it has been a valuable albeit painful teacher in making us aware of how inextricably bound we are to nature and that we are all ultimately connected to one another, from the tiniest organism to us humans. For me, while nature has always been the greatest solace and source of inspiration, it's a reminder to be grateful for, preserve, and maintain it for the future generations so they too can derive a similar joy as we have done and are still doing, inspite of it all.

Priyanka Sacheti is a writer and poet based in Bangalore, India. She grew up in Oman and has previously lived in United Kingdom and United States. She has been published in numerous publications such as Guardian, Hyperallergic, Literary Hub, Scroll, and Live Mint with a special focus on art, gender, diaspora, and identity. Priyanka's literary work has appeared in Barren, Popshot, The Lunchticket, and Jaggery Lit as well as various anthologies. She's currently working on a poetry and short story collection.