The first thing I remember learning to draw was a duck: big oval body, skinny rectangle neck, little oval head, triangle beak sticking out in front, little triangle tail sticking out in back. My dad’s bird hunting licenses inspired me to draw birds, particularly waterfowl. Dad was an avid outdoorsman and bird hunter. I admired him and I cared about the things that were important to him, so of course I wanted to draw the things he loved. Dad taught me to notice new buds or fruit on our trees and plants. He taught me to listen to the songs of robins and sparrows in the yard. He taught me that it is just as important to smell the roses (literally) as it is to visit family or play baseball or go to work. He taught me to love the world I live in, no matter how damaged it is.
Although it has been over 20 years since I lost my dad, I haven’t lost the habit of looking closely, of really seeing, of paying attention and loving every small moment of beauty. There is such a wild mixture of beauty and cruelty, it takes determination,focus, and love to find the balance that makes witnessing it bearable. I cringe at blood on the sidewalk in the morning. I also seek delight in the hidden treasures of my neighborhood, ready to excite or at least distract me from the latest tragedy. When I hear sirens howling nearby many times every day and feel a twinge of fear when I learn that someone was stabbed for their cigarettes and their smartphone recently, I also go out of my way to smell the flowers of magnolias, wisteria, and jasmine on my walk home. I remember that there are wild storms and the big, wild Pacific Ocean. There is the wind and clouds and shifting light and the sun still rises every morning and it is beautiful and unique every single day.
Despite global climate change, Honeybee colony collapse disorder, wars, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and all the other ways we humans abuse our planet and each other, there is still much to be grateful for. There are still wildlife hospitals that rescue and rehabilitate ravens and foxes and skunks who live in the city. There are still bald eagles who mate for life and nest on an island in the river in the middle of a big West Coast port. There are still elk living within walking distance of the Golden Gate. There are still people studying kangaroo rats and day-flying moths and shelf mushrooms because they know these things are important, if small, parts of our world and that maybe we have something to learn from them. There are still children who are awed and stunned to silence when they learn that a big maple tree grows from one of those tiny “helicopters” they like to spin off the bridge over the creek in the hills. There are still places without field guides or cell signals or fire roads. There is still so much beauty and wildness in this world.
As an artist, my job is to bring your attention to that beauty and wildness. My job is to be your eyes, to show you that unique sunrise even if it is obscured by the lights on the freeway. My job is to show you that even a pigeon — that “rat with wings” — can be a beautiful creature with iridescence in its throat and changeable markings. My job is to show you that the stinky lagoon near the beach is lit up by bioluminescence at twilight. My job is to bring your attention to those areas of beauty that are all too often overlooked or passed by without a second glance, or forgotten about entirely. The wildness still exists and you can find it whenever you need it, whenever you look.