As someone who never imagined publishing a book and who did not ever think I would be able to call myself a writer and author, I am exceptionally proud to have an essay published in The Common. My essay, “Reading the Ashes,” just came out in Issue 42, and is featured in both the online and print editions of the issue. It is accompanied by illustrations from my sketchbook. I can’t wait for the print version to arrive in my mailbox!
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.
In October, I joined John Muir Laws on his Nature Journal Workshop to discuss nature journaling during and after fire. We had a really lovely conversation and the video is now posted on his website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Last August, I spent a few days on Orcas Island getting to know the Cascade Creek Watershed at the invitation of Ayn Gailey and Sara Farish, authors of the just published Ode Volume One: Orcas Island. Having seen my Orcas sketchbook pages on Instagram (@anthropocenesketchbook), they wanted to include a few of my drawings in the book. This project turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to put together an ecosystem exploration in cohesive set of drawings. I am working on a more narrative presentation of the entire process, but for now, here are all of the completed sketchbook pages!
I visited four different spots along the watershed, starting at the mouth of Cascade Creek where it enters the sea at Buck Bay:
I hiked the loop trail at the Coho Preserve:
I visited Cascade Creek near the middle of its length, at a series of waterfalls:
And finished at the creek’s headwaters at Mountain Lake:
On April 27, 2019 I was excited to attend the grand opening of Kathleen’s Canyon Overlook to see my interpretive panel artwork installed! The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County threw a great party with a mariachi band and taco truck. It was a fantastic experience to see Black Lake Canyon and Kathleen’s Canyon Overlook in person for the first time and meet Lindsey Roddick and Jamie Creath for the first time after working with them over the past year and a half! It was also lovely to talk about the panels with all of the enthusiastic LCSLO supporters who attended the opening.
Text and graphic design on the panels are by Jamie Creath of LCSLO.
In December, I visited Stebbins along with two UC Davis Natural Reserves directors: Jeffrey Clary (Associate Director) and Sarah Oktay (Director of Strategic Engagement and Stebbins Cold Canyon Director). They graciously agreed to walk some of the creek trail with me to tell me about how the fire response at the reserve has compared to expectations and answer the questions that I’ve had over the last few years of site visits.
Following are pages from my sketchbook outlining our discussion, written and illustrated after the fact. At the end of this post, I’ve included the field notes I made during our walk.
Text from page 1:
1. The fire follower whispering bells (Emmenanthe penduliflora) was out in large numbers after the fire and hadn’t been seen at the reserve since the last fire 30 years ago.
2. Seedlings of buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus) were only seen this last spring (2018), which was three springs after the fire. It may be that they had reseeded/germinated earlier, but only just became noticeable.
3. Hairy-leaf ceanothus (C. oliganthus) should also be in the reserve. It may be up in the high draws and less obvious.
4. It is unclear how the manzanitas in the reserve are doing – there has not been a lot of resprouting or reseeding (parry manzanita, Arctostaphylos parryana).
5. Red ribbons (Clarkia concinna) can be seen regularly in the reserve, but never before in the numbers in which it was present the two springs after the fire. It is usually only up on the slopes and showed up both on the slopes and in the canyon after the fire.
6. The interior live oaks (Quercus wislizeni) in the canyon are doing pretty well with resprouting but it is not as clear how well the blue oaks (Q. douglasii) uphill are doing. Blue oaks tend to grow on the hillsides and live oaks in the canyon – blue oaks have a higher tolerance for low water conditions than do live oaks.
Text from page 2:
7. Many of the gray pines (Pinus sabiniana) were completely killed by the fire. Gray pines are relatively intolerant to fire but return to the area easily in between fires.
8. American robins (Turdus migratorius) come in all at once and eat the berries off of the toyons (Heteromeles arbutifolia) over a couple of days.
9. Species composition in the reserve is back to about 80% of what it was before the fire. The habitat structure is still very different, with much more understory and much less canopy. Some cover has come back by now, though, and wildflowers were already much less numerous last spring than in the first two springs after the fire.
10. Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) will be blooming soon.
11. The perennial vines in the reserve (wild cucumber – Marah fabaceus; western morning glory – Calystegia occidentalis; pipestem clematis – Clematis lasianthus) are less numerous in the mature community than they have been in the years right after the fire, when there has been abundant light and climbing support in the form of bare branches.
12. Yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum) seeds germinate readily after fire and can also resprout after fire.
Here are the field notes I took while we walked (color added later):
For greater freedom and confidence with watercolor, I’ve been working on small studies using watercolor directly on the page, without any drawing in pencil or pen beforehand. This has been illuminating: while the spontaneity can of course lead to disasters, I am also often much happier with the way that I am able to capture light on form especially.
Here are some examples: