What I Can Do vs What I Want To Do

What I Can Do vs What I Want To Do audio (6 minutes)

Let’s be real

Last month, in A Barred Owl and Stillness, I wrote about how “My brain is frequently running too many programs at once.” My recognition of this as an issue didn’t resolve it. 

I’ve run into several “What I CAN do vs What I WANT to do” dilemmas this month. Like my artwork (if I dare call it that)—I’ve felt dissatisfied with both my dog and human portraits. So I made a new journal and decided to alternate between dog portraits and human portraits so I would have a clear structure and not hem and haw about what to draw next. I also limited my media to graphite and colored pencils.  

What I can do: sketch of my dog and self portrait
Oops, I spelt Irish for “February” wrong, it’s Feabhra
Quotes typed on my antique LC Smith typewriter⏤a finger muscle workout, for sure!

During the last couple months, I’ve found such regularity difficult, if not impossible, when combined with my efforts to work on a challenging writing project plus regular physical workouts at the gym. 

Let’s not even get into the urge to double-down on plant medicine and plant identification study. Nor talk about how I’d like to play my piano and learn Irish. Oh, and foster dogs for Ruff Start Rescue, which explains why many of their dogs appear in my sketchbook.

dog sketch and self portrait

But Maery, you cannot do it all! 

Let’s be honest

Not that this ‘You’re only human’ reality stops me from pushing myself. I couldn’t keep up when I was thirty years younger, but I’m retired now. Isn’t there more time available in a day? 

self portrait sketch

No one warned me that there would also be less energy. That I would move more slowly. That my mind would rebel and unravel when exposed to endlessly unstructured days, without the clockwork demands and parameters of a job. 

Wise woman would interrupt at this point to tell me that this slowing down and desire simply to stare out the window and watch the sparrows and blue jays battle it out at the feeder is a good thing. It means my eyes are open to the world around me. 

portrait sketch

To which I would respond, “but what if the world around me makes me sad and afraid?”

I take fewer photos of nature these days because I don’t like what I’m seeing—the decline in habitat from development and forestry practices, the damage the ash bore has brought to our woods, and how everything is suffering from drought and unusually warm temperatures, followed by extreme colds, confusing the trees, birds, and animals to no end. 

The opportunity to see wonder and beauty outdoors comes less often. What I feel instead is solastalgia, the word Catherine Drea introduced me to in her book Solace: Life, Loss and the Healing Power of Nature

“Recently I found a new word ‘solastalgia’ meaning being emotional or distressed about the loss of nature. So while solace is finding peace and balm in nature, solastalgia is feeling sad at the threat of losing it. Solastalgia captures something that is rising in some of us. A feeling that the planet is teetering on another edge between hope and devastation.”

Catherine Drea, Solace: Life, loss and the healing power of nature

Let’s step into something livable

self portrait sketch

All of this means my latest passion (or is it obsession?) to start a nature journal prompts me to ask, “But won’t that mean noticing more damage and loss?” 

Yes, probably. But maybe if I look more closely, I’ll also see how boldly trees and plants and birds battle on against the odds. Some animals, like the wild turkeys in our neighborhood, seem to be thriving while the foxes and coyotes have disappeared (which might be why there are so many turkeys).

There ARE people fighting to change things, and I pray for their success. And there are people who do what they can to partner with nature by adding pollinator gardens, bird feeders, ponds and rewilding their properties. And there are people tracking and recording these things and making poetry and prose and essays and art out of it. 

Wild male turkeys outside my office window. There are at least seven males (of various maturities) with a group of females, which I don’t think is normal in the wild but perhaps an adaptation in the limited territory available in the cities?

Let’s begin

I don’t have experience drawing what I observe in nature, especially as I’m standing outside. My past attempts have not gone well. But all my starts at doing something new are like that. Someone very wise reminded me that the point is to do the things that make you happy. Those things you do where afterward you think, That was fun! Or that made me laugh; I laugh quite a bit after I finish a sketch.

If some of you are already keeping a nature journal or want to start one, I’d love to hear about your experience. It can be whatever you want: poetry, notes about how many and what kind of birds you see, when the trees start budding or sap starts running. You can add photos or print out images and information you find online or in a field guide. Whatever you want.

Don’t overcomplicate. Don’t overthink. Don’t research the bloody thing, hoping to have all the answers before plunging in! Remember? Do what you can do…

Pretty pictures or words are not the point. It’s about seeing what’s around you. It’s about who and what you are writing about or drawing—the bird, the tree, the leaf, the squirrel. Your awareness of their physicality, habits, and behaviors is what’s important. Caring about them and the place and moment you share—is worth so much more than any pretty picture.

sketch of my dog and self portrait

“Let the beauty we love be what we do. 
There are hundreds of ways to kneel 
and kiss the Earth.”


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