In the 1980s I took evening strolls past a small gallery—Artisans in Mill Valley, California—showing mostly local crafts. After hours I lingered over simple little blue-and-white “wood block” prints in the front display window, not knowing the artist’s name. They seemed “crude,” like a tree in a fancy art store, but were the only things in the gallery I looked at more than once and could never forget. And now, almost thirty years later, these “linocuts,” many of Tom Killion’s later works, and a view of the mountain through Gary Snyder’s writing are available to all of us in Tamalpais Walking.
Mount Tamalpais, standing 2,600 feet high directly above the Pacific and just north of San Francisco, is my own old and constant companion. I started walking Tamalpais in 1963 when I went to high school nearby. My latest walk was this June (when I saw the most orange monkey flowers I have ever seen blooming there) with my son’s sixth grade class on their annual postschool trip to Alice Eastwood camp.
Tamalpais Walking features Tom Killion’s prints, Gary Snyder’s poetic voice and Mount Tamalpais itself. The book is divided into four sections, the first two focused on walking the mountain through the feet and senses of Gary Snyder, whose poetry and path inspired many of us seeking direction in the ’60s. In these sections, we touch specific people, plants, vistas, food, thoughts and lives through the Snyder lens, a poetic voice that thins out so much that I often feel I am touching the object or experience itself with no poet in between. Those of us with our own long history with Tamalpais walking will know a different mountain, and yet similar. In section three, Killion cites the poetic heritage of the mountain (from the earliest native Miwok allusions, through pioneer poems, and ending with the 1960s- and ’70s-era poets). Then, in section four, Killion illustrates his wood-block technique, letting the images do the talking (or the walking)—fourteen different steps in the making of a single print.
Through this book, Killion and Snyder draw us into the “walking world” of Tamalpais and of our own walking. Both artists show by example what it is to be immersed in a landscape through foot travel. Since the late 1990s a small group of my friends and I, inspired by Snyder, have walked Tamalpais in the tradition of the Mountains and Rivers Order sesshin, where we combine early-morning/late-evening traditional seated zazen with what may be just as traditional walking meditation, following a good part of the “circumambulation route” described in the book.
I am grateful for Snyder’s voice and for the illuminated form and colors of Killion’s work. And I am grateful that I have my own mountain. The rich images of Tamalpais Walking spark whole-body memories—such as pungent bay leaves stuffed in a jean-jacket pocket—of my own years with Mount Tamalpais. The book is well-crafted literature and art, but it is also a touchstone that encourages experience. May Tamalpais Walking awaken fresh explorers to new paths on Mount Tamalpais and in life.