The Cold Canyon Fire Journals: Preorder Special Offer

I’m excited to announce a special thank you for preorders of The Cold Canyon Fire Journals!

Anyone who orders (or who has already ordered) the book before its August 2 publication date will receive an invitation to a virtual workshop and discussion on August 9 at 6:30 PM PST with John Muir Laws, author of The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, Marthine Satris, my editor at Heyday, and me.

We will discuss what inspired me to document the resurgence of the Cold Canyon nature reserve after the 2015 Wragg Fire and explore how nature journaling cultivates deeper ties to the world around us. I will also guide participants through an illustration exercise, with a live audience Q&A to follow.

Here’s how to participate:

  • Preorder The Cold Canyon Fire Journals from your favorite independent bookseller, heydaybooks.com, or any online retailer.
  • Forward your email receipt to coldcanyon@heydaybooks.com to receive your invite to my nature journaling workshop with John Muir Laws (@johnmuirlaws) on August 9, 2022.
  • Already preordered your copy? Wonderful, and thank you! To join the workshop, send your email receipt to coldcanyon@heydaybooks.com
  • (For any questions regarding your order of the book itself, please contact the bookseller.)

Unable to join us on August 9? No problem! All registered attendees will receive a recording of the event as well as a 30% discount code for the best-selling Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling and details for how to attend the virtual Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference (September 14 – 18, 2022).

First Visit After the Hennessey Fire (9/5/2020)

Anxious to see how the area looked after the fire, I drove up to Stebbins once the highway was open again. I was waiting to receive research access to the closed Reserve, but thought it would be good to see what things looked like from the road.

It is a stark landscape but a beautiful one. Without being able to explore very far in space, I focused on details: the color palette, the specifics of curled leaves, the patches of remaining green leaves or needles on trees with foliage mostly heat-killed.

I did notice that the large oak that anchored my view into the canyon on each visit since the Wragg Fire had succumbed to this fire. Drawing its stump was poignant. The place was incredibly still and quiet. I didn’t hear or see any birds save one turkey vulture high above the ridge.

A Conversation with Bethan Burton (Journaling with Nature Podcast)

Last month, I had the great pleasure of joining Bethan Burton on her podcast, Journaling with Nature. Bethan’s podcasts are so insightful and inspiring that I wholeheartedly recommend listening to all of them!

In our conversation, we talked about the work I have done documenting wildfire response at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve and the general concept of ecoreportage—documenting ecosystem change over time. We talked about the big picture of climate change and changing fire regimes in California and in Australia, and about cultural and prescribed burning practices. Bethan is a fantastic interviewer. Her questions are spot-on and she is an empathetic and engaging presence. I am proud to be part of her growing archive of conversations.

My Fire Ecology Workshop at Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference 2020

UPDATE: I had a truly awesome time teaching at Wild Wonder 2020! The teachers and workshops were all incredibly inspiring. You can still register for a video pass to view all of the amazing content before April 10, 2021. Start here to register: https://johnmuirlaws.com/wildwonder/

I’m excited to announce that I have been invited to teach a workshop at the virtual Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference, October 7-11, 2020! I will be presenting “Ecoreportage—Fire Ecology and How to Draw a Changing Landscape.” We will take a field trip through time and explore an ecosystem after a wildfire. We will start with the fire, wander through the burned canyon, and then observe and draw as plants, animals, and fungi regrow and return to the area over the next five years, with many examples and strategies from my sketchbooks.

Here are the details, schedule, and link to register:

John Muir Laws and the Nature Journal Club are thrilled to partner with The Foster to host Wild Wonder Nature Journaling Conference, October 7-11, 2020, an annual event that gathers people who are passionate about nature, art, science, curiosity, and wonder to share ideas, learn from each other, support each other, inspire each other, and have fun together in a nature’s beauty. This year’s virtual event is 5 full days, with a rich schedule of classes, panels, lectures, nature journaling challenges, social time. Please visit this page for more details on the event including a detailed schedule and a link to register: https://johnmuirlaws.com/wildwonder/

You can also go directly here to register and view the schedule.

Lightning and Flames: Stebbins Burns Again (8/17/2020)

I have been studying fire recovery at Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve for five years now, since the Wragg Fire in 2015. It has been an amazing journey watching the ecosystem grow and thrive after the fire.

It is almost certain that Stebbins burned again this week in the early days of the LNU Lightning Complex Fire. When Stebbins burned in 2015, it had been about thirty years since the last fire. Thirty years between fires is a relatively healthy interval for the chaparral and woodland ecosystems at the Reserve. Five years between fires is not.

These habitats are resilient and plants will regrow and animals return immediately, but we are inexorably changing them as we edge the climate further past the point of no return. California has always burned, and needs to burn, but in small, patchy fires, not like this.

Cultivating a Deep Sense of Place and Time

This was written as an invited post on the International Nature Journaling Week blog.

rlc spider and caterpillar

I always feel better when I have a sketchbook in my pocket and a little naked if I’m out in the world without one. I’m a biologist by training and my previous career was in salmon restoration. Then and now, I use field sketching to feel closer to my surroundings and more deeply understand the world around me.

rlc hare's foot inkcap

In 2015, I was looking for a way to use art in a long-term project to explore local environmental change. I was moving away from data and information and into a career as a natural science illustrator and was hoping to increase my naturalist knowledge and become intimately acquainted with a local landscape. That summer, there was a wildfire in the hills to the west of my town, and one of the areas that burned was a well-loved natural area run by the University of California Natural Reserve System. I went up to take a look at the site shortly afterwards, and realized that this would be a perfect opportunity to watch rapid habitat change as the reserve responded to the fire.

RLC wragg fire

rlc stebbins resprouting

I started to hike the trails at the reserve monthly, drawing and documenting everything I could. The spring after the fire, I watched the first fire-following wildflowers appear, chaparral shrubs begin to sprout new growth from their bases, and animals return to the canyon. It has been over four and a half years now since the fire. The depth of understanding that I have gained from this practice—into fire ecology and into the specifics of the habitats at the reserve­—has given me immeasurable joy. You can find this journey on my blog, Wildfire to Wildflowers.

rlc wildflowers and insects

rlc stebbins visits

We are all watching the world change around us in unprecedented ways. With climate change accelerating, many things we once took for granted are no longer certain: weather patterns, seasons, wildfire frequencies and intensities, the populations and behavior of the plants and animals around us. Artists, naturalists and all close observers of the natural world are in a unique position to chronicle this change. We have the tools to document, analyze and share what is happening in our own neighborhoods and the environments we encounter regularly. We have a great power to become more deeply enmeshed in our world: understanding its past and watching as the present unfolds into the future.

rlc stebbins march 2020

This is ecoreportage: close observation of the environment at a specific place and time, repeatedly returning to build a picture of ecological change. As a long-time field sketcher, biologist and artist, I have focused on this practice. I want to know how my surroundings came to look the way they do and I want to understand how they change as I observe them over time. I have come to see the work as a form of journalism, requiring me to understand my subject’s past and ask probing questions about what it looks like now, compiling a detailed picture as I return again and again over the years.

rlc cultural burn

Just before the pandemic, I had embarked on a new project to explore my immediate surroundings more deeply. I live in Yolo County and am working on an investigation of the history of this landscape, including all of our human impacts over time. With the latest restrictions on movement as we shelter in place, I am currently focusing on my own neighborhood, with suburban homes and agricultural research fields. What plants, animals, fungi are thriving in this built and actively managed environment? Which ones have been or are on their way to being eliminated?

rlc gulls and landfill

rlc burrowing owls

As sketchers, journalers, artists, naturalists and observers, we each have our own fragments of the picture—a full understanding is something we can only discover as a community. Although sketching is often a solitary pursuit, in order to reveal the bigger picture, we must combine our own small parts. As we do, we are seeing the emergence of a great, ever-evolving tapestry of change in the natural world, in our homes, and in ourselves.

March Visit (3/5/2020)

At the beginning of March I set off to hike the full loop up to Blue Ridge, down the spine of the ridge, past the homestead and back along the creek trail. It is only a five mile hike, but one that I generally do not have time to do given that I stop to draw to frequently. Blissfully ignorant of the new reality that was about to descend on all of us, I marveled at the opportunity to get the full perspective of high and low habitats at the Reserve.

I started by trying something new: marking the spots where I stopped to draw and noting the thing that had caught my attention there. (I drew the map in advance and added the cartoons of the flowers after the fact.)

StebbinsSketchbook1_2020Mar5

I was extremely pleased to find California pipevine in bloom! Last year, I caught the flowers once they had dried out, so was determined to find them fresh this year. They look so stunning when backlit with the light glowing through their hollow, yellowy-green bodies veined in red.

StebbinsSketchbook2_2020Mar5

Variable checkerspot caterpillars were plentiful on the ridge. I originally misidentified the first one I saw, but realized my mistake when I came on a crowd of them feeding on woolly paintbrush, one of their main host plants.

StebbinsSketchbook3_2020Mar5

Two of my favorite tiny wildflowers—purple sanicle and miniature lupine—were growing in bright exposed areas along a steeper part of the trail.

StebbinsSketchbook4_2020Mar5

An anise swallowtail (originally misidentified in the drawing) held still long enough for me to do a careful drawing. The grey hairstreak was not so patient, so I drew it based on memory as it flitted from twig to twig.

StebbinsSketchbook5_2020Mar5

This is the first year I’ve seen fruits on the manzanitas that were burned!

StebbinsSketchbook6_2020Mar5

So many beautiful colors on the hike: so hard to remember to keep moving and not try to draw every single new flower I see.

StebbinsSketchbook7_2020Mar5

The effects of our extremely dry February were abundantly evident in the creek, which was incredibly low and filled with algae. It was completely dry near the entrance to the Reserve.

StebbinsSketchbook8_2020Mar5

Now that I know that this was my last visit for a long time, with Stebbins closed to support the shelter-in-place rules, I am so grateful for this wonderful gift of a hike.