Photo of Molly Hashimoto with Japanese Maples by Paul Kasprzyk.
Article by Caryn Bell-Schutzler.
In the introduction to her stunning new book, Trees of the West (follow up to Birds of the West: An Artist’s Guide), artist, author, and educator Molly Hashimoto tells us how trees beckon us into the wilderness.
Recently, I met up with Molly after she returned from teaching a watercolor class in Yosemite. She graciously joined me for a walk at Magnuson Park, (sporting her new Yosemite baseball cap) not far from my Wedgwood neighborhood. With her gorgeous book of trees coming out soon, I wanted birders and nature lovers alike to meet the woman behind the art. Perfect timing.
Trees are the interface between urban and wilderness…They invite me to look further, to investigate their wildness, even within a city or suburb, and beckon me to the wild places beyond cities…I consider these trees portals to health, healing, the world of the imagination, and the wild.
Birding in Magnuson
From the boat launch, we began our leisurely stroll along the park’s tree-lined paths. Stopping at a grove of poplars, their leaves quaking in the cool breeze, I asked Molly if she had any favorite bird sightings at Magnuson.
Molly Hashimoto at Magnuson | Photo by Caryn Schutzler
She told me about seeing a pair of fledgling Long-eared Owlets but when she returned the next day hoping to see them again, they were gone. She said she also once saw a group of Canada Geese with a lone Snow Goose and wondered how this oddball had come to join the group. Molly tells me if you visit a place frequently, each time it’s different. Sage advice.
As we approached Magnuson’s soccer fields, edged with tall light poles, we heard a high-pitched chirping. Light poles and cell towers (“species” not included in Molly’s book) have become popular nesting locales for some raptors. Atop of one of the poles—their adopted “tree” of choice—was a large nest. Looking closer with binoculars, we spotted two Osprey chicks nearly ready to fledge. An adult circled with a stick clutched in its talons. When he landed, I told Molly about a favorite New Yorker cartoon showing a bird placing a branch in the nest. His mate cautions, “You’re not going to put that there, are you?” Molly is reticent to chatter but has a wry sense of humor that seeps through when you least expect it. Homebody nesters alike, we shared a good chuckle.
Osprey | Brian E Kushner, Canva
Long-eared Owl | Larry Hubbell
From the iconic Douglas fir and western red cedar to deciduous alders and maples, trees are a crucial link in flyways, providing rest and refueling areas during migration between a bird’s breeding and wintering grounds. They create green oases dotted along the way as migrants pass through our urban neighborhoods and cities.
When Molly takes “exercise walks” at Magnuson, she’ll often walk there from home. Like me, she rarely feels the urge to seek out birds far from her own nest. She says if they are there, where she is, when she is, that’s what it’s all about for her. Molly said she’s liked birds since childhood but didn’t begin to make art about them until about ten years ago. Wherever she goes, she takes photos as references for the block prints and watercolors she creates at home in her studio.
Rufous Hummingbird art by Molly Hashimoto
In her garden, Molly enjoys seeing juncos, towhees, and both Anna’s and Rufous Hummingbirds. I like to think the rufous visiting her yard is the same one I see in mine when they migrate through.
As we walked the densely planted maze of well-treed pathways, I was glad Molly, a soft-spoken sentinel—tall and tree-like herself—was my guide since I’m sure I would have gotten lost. We came to a large pond where yellow buds of skunk cabbage were coming into bloom, its large leaves swaying in the breeze like elephant ears. A heron landed on a snag. Downed trees lay gnawed to a pencil point, evidence of a beaver lodge. Sparrows darted in and out of brushy thickets. The dense understory, when devoid of foliage in winter, allows greater visibility of grebes, ducks, and other waterfowl.
Mountain Bluebird art by Molly Hashimoto
My path had actually first crossed with Molly’s several years ago after a neighbor wrote me a note in a card with an image of a Mountain Bluebird designed by Molly. I’ve long admired the block print/etching art form and asked where she’d found it. When she told me it was from the Seattle Audubon Nature Shop, I high-tailed it up there and bought several and asked about the designer. They told me Molly was a local artist and happened to be offering a class at the Burke Museum. Excited, I signed right up.
Always apprehensive about doing any visual art, once in Molly’s class, I felt at ease with her encouraging, easygoing demeanor. I love how she introduces other art forms in her classes, using poetry, music, and fine art books, to inspire her students. (Listening to Mozart while carving a print is so relaxing.) Molly is extremely supportive with a pragmatic, down-to-earth manner.
She says, “Art brings you out of yourself so that you meet nature halfway.”
Once, when I was struggling with a print, Molly told me about wabi sabi, the Japanese philosophy of appreciating beauty in nature that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” I so treasure this idea, believing anything in nature—especially those things with so called imperfections—are indeed beautiful. I learned from Molly—and nature—that it’s OK to create something less than perfect. In my own art and writing, unwittingly wabi sabi, I strive to understand and accept the inevitable flaws of a creative life. Whether in one of Molly’s art classes or perusing her strikingly illustrated books for inspiration, I embrace how the intertwining of minds and mediums work in concert to help us see things in unknown, yet-to-be-revealed ways.
Though we may not have seen many birds on our walk, I was delighted just spending time with Molly. I now view and listen (yes, listen) to trees—and birds—differently, as they summon me to explore the wild, wherever I might find it.
Beyond their ecological value, trees give us shade, a sturdy branch for a swing, a place to study whilst leaning against a moss-laden, gnarly trunk. And they provide sustenance for a myriad of creatures (including us) from sap, cones, seeds, and fruit, as well as sites for our feathered friends to perch and nest. Molly’s appreciation of trees, reflected in her art, is apparent. I love how she interprets the bark of different species by using strong verticals and horizontals. Especially when a bird or animal is in the print, it evokes a sense being lost in a fairytale wood.
As we look up into the trees, straining our necks trying to spot that elusive bird or simply sit beneath them for nature’s solace—their welcoming arms indeed are beckoning us to “meet nature halfway.”
Certainly, both Molly and her art meet nature more than halfway.
Author’s Note: Sadly, it could not go without mentioning that while writing this piece the iconic Sequoias of the grand Mariposa Grove in Yosemite became engulfed in a wildfire from the ever-present, ruinous consequences of climate change. As of August 1, 2022, the area/acreage lost was equal to the square miles the size of Seattle.
Seattle Audubon Member
Caryn regularly contributes to a series for Seattle Audubon called ‘Birding my Neighborhood’, where she migrates to various local neighborhoods, visiting the birds and birders that reside in them. Follow her on Instagram @bluedarner1.
Photo: Caryn with Carmen of Mozart’s Starling fame by Lyanda Haupt
About Molly Hashimoto
Seattle artist and writer Molly Hashimoto has been sketching and painting in the outdoors for more than 20 years, and has filled over 40 sketchbooks with landscapes, vignettes, studies of flora and fauna and natural history notes, much of the work created while visiting some of the West’s most iconic parks and monuments.
You can learn more about Molly on her website: https://www.mollyhashimoto.com/
Save the Date: Book Signing Event
On Thursday, November 10, Molly will be at The Nature Shop from 5:00–6:00 p.m. to sign copies of her newest book, Trees of the West. Mark your calendar for this special evening event!
The Nature Shop sells a number of Molly’s books, calendars, and greeting cards. You can pick up purchases at The Nature Shop or have items shipped.