🦊 Missing the Trees for the Forest

QBF #46 — Everything changed when I looked at a bird.

Hey friends,

I hope you’re doing well! I’ve felt a lot of creative energy flowing this week — I got a big boost from an impromptu comic chain with some peers on Twitter. What started as a little back-and-forth ended up triggering a creative flourish of comics from a bunch of people. It reminded me of the power of peers and communities to inspire us, motivate us, and energize us.

My next contribution to the chain is going to be an animation! I ended up illustrating and animating an entire sequence while (barely) watching the Super Bowl. It was a ton of fun, and it felt great to get back into animating with Looom on my iPad. It’s almost finished, and I’m really excited to share it with you in the next QBF edition!

I’ve found that I can get a lot of drawing done when I’m watching ‘mindless’ TV. It works well for me since drawing is more of an activity I do for fun — I don’t have any kind of fixed schedule around them. In order to keep improving my drawing skills, I have to get creative with drawing prompts: sketches while watching TV, illustrations for blog posts, drawings for my family and friends’ kids, etc. In this way, despite not having a structured habit for drawing, I’ve still made lots of progress!

This week’s post, Missing the Trees for the Forest, is about how we can infuse meaning into the mundane. I hope you enjoy it, and find some time to take a closer look around on your next walk!


If you prefer, you can read this post on my blog.

Missing the Trees for the Forest

Everything changed when I looked at a bird.

I was in my back yard. A myriad of chirps echoed their way through the trees. They blended with the instrumentals of the wind, coalescing into nature’s white noise. Within this chaotic blur of birds, a single chirp called out to me. I scanned the branches until I found its origin — a gray little bird with a squarish head, standing tall like an army general. Its straight-as-an-arrow tail feathers stretched out like a surfboard. It hopped about with authority.

It occurred to me that this bird has lived here all along, and yet I never noticed it. I wondered what kind of bird it was, and got excited when I remembered the smartphone app I downloaded — it can identify birds with a photo alone. But as soon as I pulled out my phone, the bird flew away. It knew what I was doing, and was having none of it.

I heeded the bird’s message, and put my phone away.

With the bird out of sight, I closed my eyes and tried to recall its image. I didn’t want to forget. I drew a loose sketch from memory:

Forgive the low fidelity of this picture — as much as I enjoy drawing detailed illustrations of birds, this was a different exercise entirely. This wasn’t a drawing of a bird. It was a drawing of my bird. It was the bird I saw, the bird I met, the bird I kept in my heart and mind. There is none other like it.

When we notice a bird, behold it, remember it… we give it meaning.

But birds aren’t the only things we can infuse with meaning. These opportunities lie everywhere, like seeds waiting to be watered. In my old neighborhood, there was a towering tree I always noticed on my daily walks. I named it Phil. I visited the tree every day, and we became great friends. Phil showed me that I can turn my mundane walks into meaningful moments.

In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s masterpiece The Little Prince, a fox teaches the prince the same lesson. The prince finds himself far from home and full of sorrow, when he encounters a fox. He asks the fox to play with him, in hopes it will cheer him up.

The fox replies that he cannot play with him, as he is not tamed:

“What does that mean—‘tame’?” asked the little prince.

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties. To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…

The fox helps the prince see that there may be a million other foxes, but his fox is one in a million.

Too often we look at the world with fuzzy eyes. We never see the budding blade of grass, only the vast green field. All becomes one in the knitted blanket of our environment.

We see the forest, but miss the trees.

By noticing and naming, loving and taming, we can light stars in the darkness of our night sky. It is up to us to give meaning to every bird whose song serenades us, every tree whose branch shades us, and every rose whose scent seduces us.

As the wise little prince tells us, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”


Quick Links

On the theme of paying closer attention, I enjoyed this post on the lost art of deep listening: “What’s your favorite album? When was the last time you listened — actually listened— to it from start to finish?” A wonderful reminder to gift ourselves with the joy of music.


I mentioned a few of my favorite drawing prompts, but if you’re looking for even more, check out promptupyour.life. It’s a wonderful little website that will generate customizable drawing prompts. As I was copying this link, its prompt suggested: “Draw a chess set to illustrate class inequality.” 😅 That would make a pretty compelling illustration! If you end up drawing it, be sure to send it my way.


Much of my work is self-directed, so I resonated deeply with the question Dan Shipper addressed in his latest post: How hard should I push myself? “On the one hand I really want to push myself … On the other hand, I want to be kind to myself … How much stress is good, and how much is bad?”


I’ll leave you with this jumping bison from Wyoming (shared by @usinterior, photo by Alex Walczak). “There was a whole group of them rolling around and I noticed a young bison running all over the place on the hill. I got this photo while it was in the middle of jumping and kicking like a bronco. After about 5 minutes of racing around, this young bison calmed down.”

I love this bison’s energy — it jumps not because it must, but because it can. I think we could all use a little more playful jumping in our lives.


Until next time,

—Salman

🌎 salman.io | 🐦 @daretorant