When Kristin, the acquiring editor at UA Press, got my last batch of drawings for The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide, last year, she burst out laughing. I took that as a positive response.
I’ll try to explain what the book is about, but first a couple of items:
• Tumamoc Sketchbook readers get a 20% discount on the book if you enter the promo code “FLR” on the University of Arizona Press order page.
There’s not much in the publishing world to compare this book to. It doesn’t look like a field guide–it’s full of poetry. The heart of the book is 65 plant and animals species, each with its own poem by a different writer. Not only that, but there is a description by Magrane and Cokinos, and a drawing. Editors Eric and Christopher wrote and edited the book together in several marathon sessions in the library at the desert Lab on Tumamoc Hill. That old library room where they wrote was once the office of Carnegie Desert Lab director and father of desert ecology Forrest Shreve, so we may assume that they had a little help and inspiration.
The book is not very useful for identifying plants or animals, but it might cause you to walk out your door, and if you live in Tucson, you’ll be in the the Sonoran Desert. Take a good look around, notice things that aren’t even in the book. Even better, you might be inspired to write your own poems and do your own drawings. Those would all be good enough outcomes from buying the book.
I did all the drawings on Tumamoc, or course. Due to time and economic constraints, I had to work fast. This was frustrating at first, because I love these things and wanted to take my time with them, but as I simplified, simplified, simplified, I too began to laugh. “Let them draw their own darned illustrations!” I said to myself. I meant the readers of the book.
There are enough field guides already in the world where readers can identify something and check it off. That’s a good thing, but if you really want to know a plant or animal, or even a rock, to know it intimately–draw it. Draw something from observation and you will own it. Rather than over-working the art myself and serving it up as the last word, I left things a bit open-ended. As I wrote in the introduction:
Each species communicates something nonverbally that can be understood only through drawing it. In making the illustrations for this book, I thought about drawing as a way of seeing… Sometimes I drew simply to feel the tactile beauty of specific lines and shapes as the pencil traced them. Although drawing is usually associated with artists, anyone can learn to do this. By learning to draw, scientists can become better researchers, noticing things they never considered before. Artists can learn the science that takes them deeper into their subject.
OK, now you know; go out and don’t just look–see stuff.