Sketch, Paint, and Listen to the Stories

state of change

Talk about high-class detective stories! What Raymond Chandler did for L.A., Laura Cunningham does for the forests, meadows, and riverbanks of the Golden State. This brings a lost world straight back to life — and one hopes it will help us work to restore it in the real world, not just in the pages of a book.” — Bill McKibben

Where there are towns, sleek freeways, and bustling cities, Laura Cunningham imagines what came before — the ancestral California landscape of salt marsh, grassland, mountain, and oak savanna. The happy result of Laura Cunningham’s imaginings is the most exciting combination of eloquent text and inspiring art that we have seen for quite some time — A State of Change: Forgotten Landscapes of California.

Laura Cunningham is an artist and naturalist who studied paleontology and biology at the University of California, Berkeley. She has produced a book that demands a slow page-by-page pursuit of a new brand of historical ecology. It’s hard to know what excites us the most about this book; the riveting story she tells with her words, or the wonderful images she has created. As much as we love her vivid paintings, we have a special fondness for her pages of black-and-white field sketches. They remind us of a terrific artist-naturalist we wrote about last year, William D. Berry!

Laura Cunningham’s book has lessons to teach anyone, no matter where you live:

As I dove deeper into the richness of California landscapes, what struck me most were not the individual animals and plants, nor even the vision of cityscapes erased back to natural habitats, but the processes that affect the world, including us. Things such as fire, climate change, disturbance, and species interactions.

For more on Laura Cunningham and her work, be sure to visit her website!

A grizzly, long ago, wanders the blue oak and feathergrass hills of the South Coast Range, 1997. Laura Cunningham

I have approached this work as an artist-naturalist might if she could visit Old California to explore, take notes, sketch, paint, and listen to the stories told about the changing landscape and wildlife.” — from A State of Change

A reconstruction of San Francisco around 1300 A.D. from Nob Hill, looking east across the bay toward Oakland. Laura Cunningham

The wonderful aspect of discovering old landscapes is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to have a Ph.D., simply good powers of observation and lots of curiosity. I describe activities throughout the book for the landscape detective, and the beneficial side effects include getting us closer to the land itself.” — from A State of Change

The Land Library first obtained a copy of A State of Change for the simple fact that it was published by Heyday Books, one of our all-time favorite publishers. Few regions are as well served as California has been by Heyday. In a future post we hope to write more about their work, and their founder Malcolm Margolin, but for now here’s a fun selection of Heyday titles from the Land Library’s shelves!

high sierralogotamalpais
Starting off with two of our favorite Heyday titles, featuring the wonderful partnership of Gary Snyder’s words, and Tom Killion’s dramatic images: The High Sierra of California, and Tamalpais Walking: Poetry, History and Prints.

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A California Bestiary by Rebecca Solnit & Mona Caron, the forthcoming Rise of the Ranges of Light: Landscapes and Change in the Mountains of California by David Scott Gilligan (here we go again, assuming a book is good just because it comes from Heyday!), Indian Summer: Traditional Life Among the Choinumne Indians of California’s San Joaquin Valley by Thomas Jefferson Mayfield, The Wild Muir: Twenty-two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures, edited by Lee Stetson (for more on this fun title, be sure to catch our earlier post!).

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Sally Carrighar’s classic of the Sierras: One Day on Beetle Rock, Nature’s Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir’s Botanical Legacy by Bonnie Gisel & Stephen Joseph, The Shirley Letters: From the California Mines, 1851-1852 by Louise Clappe, and A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush, edited by Joshua Paddison.

Keep up-to-date on all the great work underway at Heyday Books by visiting their website!


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