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article imageSan Francisco Bay naturalist has his own set of Laws Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Apr 22, 2011 in Environment
San Francisco Bay Area naturalist and trail guide author John Muir Laws has a passion when talking about nature. Known as "Jack" to family and friends, he makes it clear even in day to day conversation he is an advocate for the natural world.
"From an early age, my parents instilled in me a deep love of nature and an insatiable curiosity," he said in an interview. "Nature exploration has opened my eyes to a world of beauty and wonder that has grown into a deep commitment to stewardship,"
He talked to this reporter recently while preparing for an exhibit of his art at a book-signing party this past April 1 at The Bone Room in Berkeley, CA.
Laws who has been lecturing and giving nature hike tours for over 20 years since high school days hopes his efforts will encourage people to be more aware of the natural world. Soon to be released is his third book, on drawing and painting birds. Like many people, Laws struggled with dyslexia in school. Despite this obstacle, he used sketches to note his growing knowledge and appreciation of nature.
Back in 2004 he published his first book, "Sierra Birds - A Hiker’s Guide." Was then followed in 2007 by "The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra" a book that took six years of research, 2,710 original watercolor illustrations and over 1,700 species detailed, the guide book was well received helping to establish Laws as a resource and authority of information on nature.
"It is incredibly helpful and fills a real need for an inclusive guide that is user-friendly," said Margaret Burke at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
Burke, who serves as director of education at the academy, had lots of praise for Laws' first work, which during the six years of research, writing and sketching made many revisions to get just right.
"I am very pleased and really excited," Burke said.
Compact and lightweight, the field guide is a concise reference to the various species of plants, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that anyone would encounter while hiking in the Sierra Nevada.
According to Laws, most field guides assume that the reader knows the specialized taxonomy and vocabulary that is used to organize them. Others even lack color illustrations.
With his full color, hand-drawn illustrations, color-coded tabs and subject lines, Laws' guidebook helps people understand what they are seeing, on the ground, in the water or in the air. "I also included a simple astronomical chart so if people are out at night, they can observe constellations," Laws said.
Burke recalled back then, that as Laws prepared and presented the trail and field guide in sections to various scientists, such as botanists and ornithologists-(those who study plants and birds) at the academy, there was "a great buzz going around," she said.
At that time, Laws worked with many experts in the various scientific disciplines to make sure the book was accurate. It was an experience that the UC Berkeley graduate of natural sciences found "absolutely fabulous," he said.
He said it was "an excuse to run-around full-time through mountain ranges, meadows and many stunning places." Yet, Laws' main objective at that time was to comprise a guide that would appeal to the average person walking along a nature trail.
"I wanted to make my field guide as easy and accessible to use, taking a lot of the technical difficulty out of it so that everyday people can enjoy a hike on the trail and identifying what they find," Laws said.
From childhood on, growing up near Mount Sutro in San Francisco's Sunset District near Golden Gate Park, Laws learned much about nature from both his parents. They were avid about plants and bird-watching while taking walks.
"My idea for the guide was to have everything a person is likely to encounter; not just plants, birds and insects but animal tracks, plankton and fungi," Laws said.
“My favorite places to be are Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra Nevada,” said Laws.” The native Californian’s affinity for the abundant beauty of the Bay Area is local but the scope and depth of his passion for nature is global.
Since the completion of his very first travel guide, many of his travels take him around the world. And, as a result the current picture he sees of the natural environment has him concerned. Issues about climate change, pollution, population growth, air and water quality are no longer fringe-group concerns under the rallying cries of activists. They are now in the over-all agenda of forums and committees world-wide.
Concerns about the environment and the natural world rely upon everyday citizens. This is why Laws sees his work as important.
This reporter has talked with Laws on several occasions since the publication of his first field guide book over four years ago. Laws is setting his plan to work at more out-reach activities for the community.
Now with the work completed on his new book about drawing birds, Laws is eager to set new goals.
“I will continue working to create a series of innovative field guides and to develop original programs and curricula which explore, explain, and advance the public understanding of bio diversity and its related science," he said.
Yet, Laws was also realistic about the obstacles facing his endeavors. “It is hard to get people excited about nature if they do not have personal, first hand experiences in it,” he said.
Laws mentioned how much time school age kids spend watching television or playing video games. “The digital revolution and its technology are pulling so many people away from the outside world,” he said.
The appeal of a nature walk or a stroll along a trail to view wildlife has some heavy competition with the influx of cell phones, computers, High Definition TV and the like. Laws also noted that indoor sedentary life does affect the over-all health of people. Diabetes, obesity, back pain these are all symptoms of a disconnection from nature.
Laws hopes that somehow his work can make a difference. John Muir Laws, his books, programs and lectures can be attained at his web site.
More about John Muir Laws, Naturalist, San Francisco Bay Area, Nature, California
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