John Muir Laws is a born storyteller. You’re likely familiar with Jack’s stories through pictures from his “Naturalist’s Notebook” in Bay Nature, which he’s drawn since the magazine’s fourth issue.
But Laws is also a gifted verbal storyteller. As guest speaker for a recent Marin Audubon Society annual meeting, he wove tales about the interactions between creatures that live in concert with a lodgepole pine. Jack doesn’t just talk; he walks the walk, throwing his whole body into his tale. Hopping around the room with his arms flailing, Laws transformed himself into a jumping spider.
Behind him on the screen was a sketch of the spider. The illustration is just one of the thousands of original drawings found in The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada from Heyday Books and his recent release, The Laws Pocket Guide Set: San Francisco Bay Area from Heyday and Audubon California.
You won’t find a lot of text in Laws’s field guides, and that’s how he likes it. As a kid he loved field guides, but he is dyslexic, so the words didn’t stick. He’d stare at the pictures for hours, and when he saw something in the field that he had been studying in a book, he’d say, “I know you! I don’t know your name, but I know you!”
The San Francisco Bay Area set includes four folded laminated posters designed as lightweight visual aids to take into the field. They are a teaser for a more comprehensive Central California field guide Laws is working on, ranging from Mendocino to Big Sur and inland to the western edge of the Central Valley. Although he’ll be busy studying and drawing for several more years, he can’t possibly draw every creature and plant in that area. He says his criteria for what to include comes down to what is common, what comes to you, and what is so beautiful it can’t be ignored.
His goal for the book is to inspire a new generation of eccentric, adventurous naturalists. Prove that you’re already out there by entering a raffle and telling Heyday Books why you’re crazy about nature via Twitter, Facebook, or email. Prizes include a hike with Laws. For more information about the contest, visit Heyday’s site. For listings of Laws’s upcoming events and classes, go to johnmuirlaws.com.