Thursday night: "Finding Connection in Nature" with John Muir Laws
- "He was terrific. The review from participants was a resounding 'Wow!' He energizes people." - from Charlene McAllister of Mendocino Coast Audubon re John Muir Laws' presentation there on Monday night:
Thursday, May 14, Ukiah Civic Center, 7 p.m.
Article by Kate Marianchild
"When I sketch, the animals forget I'm there," explains John Muir Laws, author of the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. "One day I crossed a log over a stream and settled down to paint a wintergreen plant. A group of Stellar's Jays soon began squawking the way they do when they're trying to drive a predator away.
"I sat perfectly still, and soon a mid-sized weasel called a Pine Marten popped out of the bushes in front of me with a chipmunk dangling from its jaws. Between the shrieking of the jays and my stillness, the marten didn't even notice I was there. It ran across the log, still carrying the chipmunk, and nearly touched me as it passed by to cross over the stream."
John Muir (Jack) Laws was exposed to the Sierra from an early age. His mother was an amateur botanist, his father a birder, and both were passionate about the mountains. When Jack was growing up they were always throwing camping gear in the car and heading for the High Sierra. "When I'm in the Sierra the quality of light on granite and the sound of wind in the lodgepole pines give me the feeling that I have come home," Jack reflects.
During high school Jack got the idea for his field guide. He was lugging too many books on a backpack trip, and suddenly realized there ought to be a single field guide that covered all the species of the Sierra. The thought simmered quietly during his undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, his graduate studies at the University of Montana, and his subsequent career as an environmental educator. But finally, in his mid-thirties, Jack remembered something his grandmother once said: "We all walk around with dream projects in our heads and that's exactly where they remain until we put them out of there and do it."
Jack wasted no time. He quit his job at the California Academy of Sciences and headed for the High Sierra. For six years he backpacked and sketched during the summers and refined his paintings during the winter months. In the middle of the effort, after he finished painting the Sierra birds, he published a "break-out book" called A Hiker's Guide to Sierra Birds. That book helped fund and market the comprehensive guide that would be two more years in the making.
In the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada all the life forms mushrooms, lichens, flowering plants, spiders, beetles, butterflies, bats, fish, snakes, birds, and mammals are living together in exquisite detail and vivid color. Just opening the book makes a nature-lover happy. Some species, such as the crayfish and tarantula hawk, cast shadows so life-like the creatures nearly jump off the page. Laws even tossed in sections on animal tracks, weather patterns, and stars to make sure Sierra hikers lacked for nothing. The book has been rigorously reviewed by experts and field tested by novices who have found the identification keys accurate and easy to use. And though it's a stretch, the tall, narrow, thick book can actually be squeezed into some back pockets, barely qualifying it as a pocket guide.
The Sierra guide is a stunning achievement in a career that was already important to the preservation of California's natural environment. Before the book's publication, Laws purveyed his degrees in Conservation and Resource Biology (B.S.) and Wildlife Biology (M.A.,) as well as his Certificate in Science Communication, into opportunities to teach and develop science and biodiversity curricula in institutions such as UC Santa Cruz and the California Academy of Sciences. He has also worked as a free-lance illustrator for National Geographic, Nature Conservancy, Save San Francisco Bay Association, and several other environmental organizations.
Since the 2007 publication of the book Laws has been in great demand around the state as a presenter and environmental educator. He has been the keynote speaker at many conferences and conventions, including a climate change conference, a conservation symposium, and numerous birding conventions. Laws is deeply committed to stewardship of nature and collaborates with organizations throughout the state to this end. He is currently coordinating efforts to create a standards-based 6th-8th grade curriculum to help teachers convey a love of nature and an understanding of biodiversity to their students through field studies and nature sketching. He is also seeking funding to provide copies of his field guides to schools in the Sierra so students there can discover biodiversity in their own backyard.
Laws will give a slide presentation in Ukiah on Thursday, May 14 titled "Finding Connection in Nature." (Ukiah Civic Center, 300 Seminary Avenue, 7 p.m.). His talk will be illustrated with his paintings of "the beautiful and amazing species of the Sierra and the relationships between them" and will also touch on the natural history of the Sierra Nevada, the conservation challenges facing the stewards of the Sierra, and the process of creating a field guide. Signed copies of The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada as well as Sierra Birds: A Hiker's Guide, will be available for purchase at the presentation.
Please note that in order to secure Jack Laws as a speaker, Peregrine Audubon Society has departed from its usual schedule. Laws will speak on the second Thursday in May rather than the third Thursday. This presentation is free to the public, though donations will be welcome. For more information please go to www.peregrineaudubon.org.
Article by Kate Marianchild based on 4/22/09 interview with Jack Laws.
"Credentials aside, we know of no more inspired,
animated and delightful ambassador for nature than
Jack. Jack just radiates his love for the natural world,
inspiring people to go out there and experience it and to
channel their passion into political activism. Feel like a
kid again, as Jack takes you on his personal journey of
discovery and wonder. You`ll be glad you hauled
yourself out of the house for this one!"
(Quoted from the newsletter of the Dorothy Young King Chapter of
California Native Plant Society).
Writer, Editor, Publicist