Between Writing and Painting

Imagery has the power to induce words, especially when created by an artist with something on his or her mind. Sadly, I was never able to draw. Words, meanwhile, have the power to create imagery, especially when in the hands of an adept writer. Even though I can write, Nature’s silent intricacies always seemed to require more than a thousand for every picture. I often wished I could just let Nature do the talking. Thus, I was elated when I found the art of Nature printing.

Honeysuckle Leaf

Nature printing is the careful pressing of inked objects onto paper to make direct-impression records of the subjects. Explorers used the process to create detailed and accurate records of the unusual plant life they found in their travels. The Japanese gave the name Gyotaku to their technique for creating images of fish. Just as the painter must develop skill to replicate a subject with practiced paint application and brush strokes, the nature printer must coax the details from the subject with practiced ink application and pressure.

In the writing world, I greatly favor the work of John Muir, who roamed the North American wilderness and used words to share his discoveries with the public. He was an expert at a conveying a verbal image of a place. It wasn’t uncommon when he used more than four pages to describe a single Sierra waterfall.

Muir was so moved by Nature’s creations, he felt compelled to give back, to give voice to the silent so that other humans might notice. He knew that if people cared, they’d be empowered to preserve and protect. And if we did that, the human race might return some favor to Nature for giving us all that we need to survive.

While my goal is the same as Muir’s, even if I could come close to writing as well as he, in today’s hurried world, most audiences prefer I just get to the picture. Today we have tamed the wilderness; there is little left that hasn’t already been visited, inspected, documented, and photographed. That glorious waterfall Muir wrote about fell into the Hetch Hetchy valley. The arduous journey to it has been reduced to a nonstop flight. Besides, once a part of Yosemite National Park, the entire valley was eliminated from park status and drowned when the Tuolumne River was dammed to supply San Francisco with water and light. Muir tried to ease his resulting grief when he wrote, “They will see what I meant in time.”

It is time we see, and it is my intention to renew the awe that was once America untrodden. There is still plenty of room for discovery, every day, in every corner. We don’t need to venture farther; we just need to look closer. Nature is grand at the tiniest scale.

In truth, I am not the artist here. I am just the translator, much like Muir was. With great care I press subject to paper in hopes that the result might awaken the spirit of gratitude that is so deep there are no words.