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Sphinx Moth, part of Patty Trimble's 'Vanishing California' exhibit at Gallery Route One in Point Reyes. Patti Trimble

PATTI TRIMBLE GREW up playing in Miller Creek and exploring the hills of Marin.

As an environmental science student at the University of California at Berkeley, she worked as a naturalist at Point Reyes National Seashore.

She lived for the natural world.

But then other interests took over — art, poetry, performance poetry, motherhood, teaching, and a long career as a freelance science textbook writer.

When she moved back to her native Marin from New York City years ago, where she immersed herself in the fine arts scene, working with abstract expressionists Richard Pousette-Dart, James Brooks and Hedda Sterne and exhibiting her own paintings, she noticed something had changed — the natural world she knew so intimately.

"I walked trails I'd known for 50 years, slowly understanding — and mourning — the changes," she says.

But she needed a way to show what she saw, what she knew was wrong.

When she stopped writing science textbooks about two years ago, it seemed like a good time to get back to her eco beginnings. She picked up her paintbrushes and started chronicling the plants and butterflies on California's endangered species list.

"I really want to make artwork that has to do with the content and communication of some kind rather than just making pictures. So I sort of tried to cram everything into my life in one basket. And I thought I really want to know more about this extinction thing because I grew up in Marin and I hiked everywhere. It's where my love of nature came from," says Trimble, co-founder of the Tuolumne Poetry Festival, now in its 16th year.


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A selection of the Petaluma resident's paintings and poems are featured in "Vanishing California" at Gallery Route One's Project Space in Point Reyes as part of "With the Earth," an ongoing series of exhibitions focused on environmental issues that began as a response to 1989's Exxon Valdez oil spill.

"We want to help people think about environmental issues in a way that's directed by the art. We feel artists have a unique way dealing with information," says Zea Morvitz of Inverness, a founding member of Gallery Route One. "Patty's work is very beautiful, so you have these really wonderful images and at the same time you have a very thoughtful message about how we're letting these beautiful flowers be eradicated from the landscape. The way she's thinking about it is just kind of haunting to me."

Trimble isn't an eco-activist but she has been a longtime environmental poet, reading her works at benefits and events as a way to interject feeling into the often-technical or political expert panels and pleas for donations.

"It wasn't specifically a call to action, but it opened people's awareness in a real way. It was like, "Oh, this pertains to me. I live here, this thing lives here. This is a change that's actually, physically happening," she says.

She's hopeful "Vanishing California" has the same effect.

"I'm curious what people's response will be," she says. "What I hope is that they'll get a more visual and visceral experience of what all the statistics say about endangered species."

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California has 124 animal species that are threatened or endangered; the state's Department of Fish and Game lists 134 state-listed endangered plants.

Documenting them has been somewhat challenging. She's had to rely mostly on photographs because as she notes, "most of these plants I can't go visit. They're impossible to find," although through her connections with Point Reyes National Seashore she has been able to see two plant species — Sonoma spineflower and Tidestrom's lupin — and paint them onsite. "They're life-size so it's kind of silly, the leaves are 3 centimeters long," she says, laughing, of Tidestrom's lupin.

Next year, she hopes to make pilgrimages to see more plants.

For the 57-year-old Trimble, her journey chronicling what's vanishing around us has shifted focus.

"When I first started painting them, I thought it was just so sad. But I don't feel that way anymore," she says. "It became an ecstatic experience, to take some of these little blossoms and blow them up really big and think, wow, this is my world."

Vicki Larson can be reached at vlarson@marinij.com; follow her on Twitter at @OMGchronicles, fan her on Facebook at Vicki-Larson-OMG-Chronicles

IF YOU GO

What: "Vanishing California," paintings and poems by Patti Trimble
When: May 18 to June 24; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays; reception: 3 to 5 p.m. May 20
Where: Gallery Route One, 11101 Highway One, Point Reyes Station
Admission: Free
Information: 663-1347; galleryrouteone.org
More: Patti Trimble leads "With the Earth: Community Poetry Reading" with local poets at 7 p.m. June 17. A "With the Earth" panel discussion with Trimble, photographer Todd Pickering, educator Madeline Hope and biologist Sarah Minnick takes place at 7:30 p.m. June 22

'Ode to the Clover' by Patti Trimble


How extraordinary is form,
how fine is the clover
that could be no other than clover

and inside the whorl an eccentric room,
an architectural assurance
as grand as Notre Dame.

I live here in color, I see I've been wrong
about rooms of meaning
and forms my thought
might take, I didn't understand

before, why we say seed of idea,
blossom of thought —

here lies solemn order, foolish gaiety,
innocence, mathematics, poise, irrational love.

From cotyledon unfurled to the full run
of a good idea to the fall of petals,
thought opens easy in time —

my mind yearns to take this shape,
the clover's head is full of flowers,
flowerets in a round head.