Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder joined artist and printmaker Tom Killion on Wednesday to discuss their work on the High Sierra region in northeastern California.
Snyder and Killion have compiled three books together, including The High Sierra of California. The book includes Snyder’s journal entries from his time in the High Sierra, as well as Killion’s visual images of the High Sierra, created using traditional Japanese and European woodcut techniques.
Wednesday’s event began with a brief introduction by Michael Fried, co-founder and artistic executive producer of Planet Earth Arts, an organization that sponsors events featuring people who merge art with nature.
“I’ve been a great admirer of the work of Gary Snyder and Tom Killion,” Fried said. “They changed my life in many beautiful and powerful ways, and helped me to see the world in a deeper way.”
Killion spoke about the effects of the High Sierra on his art and his life. Being in the mountains has made him notice and admire the scope of nature, while also heightening his perspective on humanity.
“Walking through the High Sierra is to experience what it is to really be human,” he said.
Killion emphasized the importance of discomfort for human beings. He said humans are best when they are struggling; it is important to pursue discomfort, which — for him — entails walking in nature.
Although Killion said he has enjoyed walking in groups, he also encouraged people to go walking in nature alone.
“You learn a lot going by yourself,” he said. “You really notice things. A lot of the best prints that I’ve done have been [after walking] by myself.”
Snyder’s poetry inspired Killion’s art and made him truly notice the magic of nature, Killion said.
“I saw things better after reading Gary’s poems,” Killion added. “His poems gave them some sort of glistening alure that they hadn’t had before.”
East Asian landscapes provided the main inspiration for many of Killion’s prints. He particularly admires the use of landscape as a place for people to be placed, rather than a simple backdrop for the people.
“There’s something about mountain landscape, brush painting and that search for enlightenment that all seem to go together,” he said.
Like Killion, Snyder believes that nature is a vital part of the human experience. Snyder lives in a remote part of the Nevada County, with no electricity and few neighbors.
“I came to feel that the back country represents a very important part of our whole human experience, and I no longer think of it only as mountains,” he said.
He continued by reading a few of his poems aloud, as well as his journal entries from trips to the High Sierra.
Sierra Nevada Research Institute at UC Merced Armando Quintero joined Snyder and Killion after their talk for a roundtable discussion. Quintero brought up a conversation about nature that he and Snyder recently had over breakfast.
“One of the things Gary brought up at the end of the conversation was about the need to change the way we relate to … the Sierra Nevada,” he said.
The Sierra Nevada is private land — a fact that, according to Snyder, many Americans do not fully understand. He told Quintero this as part of their conversation.
“[Public land] does not belong to the federal government,” Snyder said. “It is in trust for the people of the United States, who are enabled actually by the legislation to take part in the decision-making that takes place. Starting there — realizing that it is our land — then we have to think of it in a greater sense of responsibility in a way.”
In times of climate change, rising sea levels and deforestation, the speakers said, it is more important than ever to appreciate the vastness of nature.
“Let us all enjoy all the aspects of what nature and the world can show us,” Snyder said.