Woodstock illustrator Will Lytle’s intricately detailed nature drawings are instantly recognizable, whether in his Thorneater Comics chapbooks, in the signage and bathrooms at The Pines restaurant in Mount Tremper, or on the pages of local author Clark Strand’s book Waking Up to the Dark. Now Lytle has produced his first children’s book, Little One and the Water, as a project of Keiko Sono’s Catskill Waters initiative, funded by a grant from Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program (AWSMP).
Lytle will read from the book, a child’s-eye tour of the Little Beaver Kill Creek, and display the drawings on the walls at the Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, September 14. The actual books will not be available until Sunday, September 22, when he will sell and sign copies at the Catskills Visitors Center in Mount Tremper from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. At the second event, Sono will show her video of the Little Beaver Kill.
Over the past three years, the grants funding Catskill Waters were meant to be used for public outreach and educational purposes regarding water protection in the watershed. Sono’s inspiration was to hire local artists and writers to apply their talents to the projects. In Lytle’s case, they first considered creating murals that people could view in a flowing series as they walked through Woodstock. He had previously painted a mural, a picture of a sturgeon, on the wall of Keegan Ales in Kingston, as part of the O+ Festival.
Sunflower considered taking on a mural, but the health food store was then in the midst of a major renovation. Randy Conte of the Woodstock Playhouse expressed interest. However, it became clear that getting other businesses on board would not be practical. Lytle had always wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book, which became the new focus.
He interviewed Allison Lent, Adam Doan, and Leslie Zucker, scientists at AWSMP, which helps New York City maintain the cleanliness of its drinking water on the way from the Esopus Creek and its tributaries into the Ashokan Reservoir. “It was Stream Management 101,” said Lytle, “way more fascinating than I thought. There’s a lot of information that can be portrayed visually.” He hiked the Little Beaver Kill from its source on Ohayo Mountain, through the Wittenberg Road area, and down into Mount Tremper, where the creek joins the Esopus.
On the way, Lytle observed how nature-oriented management of a stream retains features that are destroyed by prioritizing concrete and culverts to protect human infrastructure from water. “I saw riparian borders, families of vegetative materials on the banks of the stream, which are as much a part of the ecosystem as the water. They’re important for erosion prevention, but we tend rip them out if there’s a stream running through the yard. Old techniques, like putting in concrete, won’t kill the stream, but they tend to obstruct the natural system. Now we’re moving towards managing streams with natural materials, boulders or root balls, which keeps a safe condition for infrastructure but allows natural stuff to grow.”
The book includes references to healthy streams, which Lytle hopes kids “will absorb by osmosis, but some of it would be over their heads. More than specific science, I leaned on showing the value of going into the woods and seeing this world of plants and animals.”
Lytle’s own intimacy with nature includes frequent bushwhacks through the mountains and camping out even in winter. “When I started working with him,” said Sono, “his house had no walls in summer. He lived in a tent within his house. He has that kind of connection with nature. There’s a soul that’s captured in the pages of this book, that’s more than illustration. It’s the spirit of the Catskills.”
She is proud of having funded the creation of the book. “It’s hard for artists to embark on a long project while supporting themselves financially. I was able to give Will a $5000 artist fee and also cover the printing of the first batch of books, so he didn’t have to put anything out himself. It’s a business model I would love to replicate for other artists.”
Will Lytle will read from Little One and the Water on Saturday, September 14, at 4:30 p.m., at the Golden Notebook Bookstore, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Copies of the book will be available Sunday, September 22, 4 to 6 p.m., when he will sell and sign books at the Catskills Visitors Center, 5096 Route 28, Mount Tremper.