zen in golden gate park: the art of nature journaling

Nature journal, oak woodlands, Golden Gate Park (Heath Massey)

Nature journal, oak woodlands, Golden Gate Park (Heath Massey)

Recently I spent a week in the Sierras “nature-journaling” with John Muir Laws:  http://www.johnmuirlaws.com  If you aren’t familiar with Jack Laws, I highly recommend getting to know him.  Whenever I’m in the Sierras I depend on The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada and The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds (2012) has become a staple in my art library.  But nature-journaling with Jack in the Sierras was truly a transformative experience.  His approach to sketching in the wild combines the focused observation of the naturalist, the spiritual sensibility of the zen maser and the acute visual sensibility of the artist.  In the two weeks since that workshop in the Sierras, I have been seeing Golden Gate Park quite differently.

The main difference is that birds, insects, plants and all the other living pieces of the park’s ecosystem have come sharply into focus for me.  In the oak woodlands, for example, I no longer see primarily a landscape painting, although that frame is always with me too.  I also notice the gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis?) scampering along the branches, the dark eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) feeding on the ground and the hummingbirds (Calypte anna?) chasing each other in the air like kamikaze planes.  I wonder if those hummingbirds feed on the alluring orange, trumpet-shaped flowers in that enormous patch of South African bush lilies (Clivia miniata).   Where do the squirrels and juncos nest?  Are there beetles in that pile of thorny blackberry canes?

With this new sensibility I sit still in one place longer, soaking everything up, watching and wondering,  trying to figure out what’s happening here, following the narrative of the place.  I go home and look up everything I’ve seen.  The park seems so much more alive.  I’m falling in love with it all over again.  Thank you Jack Laws!



About fromthethicket

I'm a landscape historian and professor emeritus of landscape architecture, UC Davis. I live in San Francisco.
This entry was posted in animals, birds, people, plants, science, trees/urban forest, urban ecology, wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to zen in golden gate park: the art of nature journaling

  1. Thanks for the post Your drawings are really nice.
    I did a workshop with him at Yuba Pass several years ago and you describe the experience very well. Second that recommendation!
    Keep up the great work.

    Jim Chamberlain

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s