This is a book of keys and highly localized descriptions, but for what it is it's amazing. An invaluable resource for anyone botanizing Mt. Diablo andThis is a book of keys and highly localized descriptions, but for what it is it's amazing. An invaluable resource for anyone botanizing Mt. Diablo and useful for anyone botanically inclined in the Bay Area. I often find the keys and descriptions more useful than Jepson. Maybe that isn't saying much....more
This was one of my first guides to CA natural history, and it's a wonderful comprehensive look at the state's ecosystems. Definitely merits some re-reThis was one of my first guides to CA natural history, and it's a wonderful comprehensive look at the state's ecosystems. Definitely merits some re-reading....more
Mosses are fairly hard to identify, mostly because they are so small. This book is required reading if you want to ID mosses in California, mostly becMosses are fairly hard to identify, mostly because they are so small. This book is required reading if you want to ID mosses in California, mostly because there aren't many other image-based resources for moss identification, and keys can get pretty technical pretty quick. While this guide is not comprehensive, it will lead you in the right direction. My main caveats are a) not everything is photographed in situ (many photos are microscopic and/or of dried specimens), and b) there is no key to fall back on when you can't find a good match among the photos or leaf illustrations....more
Decent guide to most of the saltwater fish you might encounter fishing or diving around here. Not all the photos are perfectly representative, but it'Decent guide to most of the saltwater fish you might encounter fishing or diving around here. Not all the photos are perfectly representative, but it's decent....more
This is a nice, colorful guide to the often mystifying world of intertidal California. Most of the common things you're likely to encounter are in theThis is a nice, colorful guide to the often mystifying world of intertidal California. Most of the common things you're likely to encounter are in there, and it's small enough to fit in a big pocket. The binding is also sturdy and I believe the cover and pages hold up fairly well to a good splashing or dunking....more
This is a great guide for what it is: an overview of almost every living thing you might encounter in the Sierra Nevada that will fit in your backpackThis is a great guide for what it is: an overview of almost every living thing you might encounter in the Sierra Nevada that will fit in your backpack. If you're looking at something and wondering, "What kind of plant is that?" or even "Is this a plant or a fungus?" then this guide is perfect. Visually oriented, mostly organized by color, with some additional groupings by habitat make for a pretty good experience when looking up complete unknowns.
Of course, the downside is that if you really want to get specific, this book is just a starting point. For instance, I've been using it to work out some of the things I saw on a trip to Plumas County last weekend. I saw this one little green woodland orchid all over the place, but it's not in this book. There are actually several little green orchids in the area, but I don't think any of them are listed.
Anyway, well worth the money if you, like me, don't know that much about the Sierra....more
First-person history is truly amazing. Even if all you do is marvel at how some things have changed while others have stayed the same, it is still fabFirst-person history is truly amazing. Even if all you do is marvel at how some things have changed while others have stayed the same, it is still fabulous. Grizzlies everywhere! Completely unselfconscious racism! No roads! Moaning about the monotonous summers! Racial diversity! California crazies! So good.
If you didn’t take the time to read the description, this book comprises letters written by one William H. Brewer during his time leading a field crew for the California State Geological Survey from 1860 to 1864. He and his band of beans-and-bacon-fed chaps traipsed o’er hill and dale (and desert and chaparral and flood plain and alkali flat and glacier), up and down the great state of California, mapping it, collecting biological specimens, and, most importantly, investigating its mineral wealth. Brewer was technically hired to be the botanist, but did more surveying and logistical work.
That would would all be meaningless if Brewer were not Brewer. He was a fastidious measurer and recorder. I mean, he measured everything. If he was staying in a room and felt it was a bit chilly, he would whip out the thermometer and write down exactly how chilly it was. When he saw a big tree, he was not satisfied until he wrote down exactly how big it was. If you were to do a shot every time he measured something, you would be drunk in 10 pages, dead in 50. This compulsion is annoying, amusing, eventually endearing, and ultimately reassuring, because it engenders trust in him as a faithful narrator, and that trust is what makes this such an exceptional window into the past. There’s a scene in the book where Brewer meets some fellow Yale alumni on a steamer headed down the Sacramento toward San Francisco, who he later employs in the survey. His account is succinct and unremarkable, but a footnote includes a letter by one of the men he met recounting the experience, and it is incredibly dramatized and colorful by comparison. Little tidbits like that make me believe Brewer when he says he walked extraordinary distances, or that his companions were turning blue on top of Mt. Shasta, or that the majority of the Central Valley flooded one winter.
My only disappointment was the lack of botanical detail, and frankly, given the info in the intro, I suspect there wasn’t actually much to report. Brewer surely collected quite a bit, and many California native plants and animals bear his name (including the lovely Brewer’s clarkia, which I long to see), but apparently he recognized very few of them, most likely because they were new to science. I’d be curious to take a peek at his field journals, which he intended for personal use, and not for more general consumption.
If you like history and you love the California landscape, you should check this out.
p. 13 "The weather is soft and balmy—no winter, but a perpetual spring and summer. Such is Los Angeles, a place where 'every prospect pleases and only man is vile.'" Given that I live in Northern CA and that it is thus my sworn duty to look down upon the benighted fools who choose to live in SoCal, this passage made me laugh. The quote isn't cited, though, so I looked it up. It's from a hymn called "From Greenland's Icy Mountains" by Reginald Heber, a Brit and former Bishop of Calcutta. Brewer was probably commenting on the mixed Mexican population of Los Angeles at the time, but I thought it was a sort of nice piece of romantic environmental misanthropy as well. Turns out the original has become quite controversial and emblematic of European colonial arrogance with respect to native peoples, derided by no less than Mahatma Gandhi (the next lines are "In vain with lavish kindness the gifts of God are strown / The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone"). Oh so much more on Wikipedia.
p. 41 "Such a pickle!" It filled me with joy to learn that people used the word "pickle" this way in 1860.
p. 63 Brewer encounters an Indian who has caught several "vivaparoa fishes" which give live birth, "a thing," he claims, "nowhere known except on the coast of California." There are, in fact, quite a few viviparous fish in many parts of the world, but given the fact that he was on the beach in CA, I'm guessing the Indian was catching surfperch (family Embiotocidae), which are all apparently viviparous (so sayeth Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes).
p. 68 yarb (n):Wordnik has it as a colloquial synonym for "herb."
p. 70 "No place but California can produce such groups." Brewer commenting on the racial diversity at a church service including Spaniards, Mexicans, Indians, Chinese and Anglo-Americans. So interesting that even then the area was remarkable for its diversity.
p. 71 Brewer loves the ladies. Well, he is forever talking about them. A lot of days are like, "Found a big oak, was afraid of grizzles, met several lovely daughters." He doesn't seem like a lecher, so maybe he was just starved for female companionship?
p. 82 He seemed quite afraid of tarantulas early on, but he mellows out later.
p. 121 "Much as can be said about this lovely climate, yet give me our home climate, variable as it is. This is healthy, very healthy, lovely, but it is monotonous—four more months, long months of dry air and clear sky." Tell it, brother. I love it when Brewer gets all Northeastern.
p. 121 "There is no canopy like the tent, or the canopy of Heaven, no bed so sweet as the bosom of Mother Earth." Sometimes Brewer is clearly Romantic, but he's no environmentalist in the modern sense. Constantly killing animals for sport, doesn't criticize the massive environmental destruction of mining. Strange.
p. 142 Stockholders exploit the miners, miners (sexually) exploit the Indians, the whole system exploits the land. It's like a David Mitchell novel.
p. 160 "I wish you could see those Mexican ladies ride; you would say you never saw riding before."
p. 242 He describes almost the entire Central Valley flooding in 1862: 6,000 square miles under water (which prompted 11,000 lbs of rescue ham!). Astounding.
p. 251 "What the 'Nigger Question' is at home, the 'Mongolian Question' is here." Brewer dislikes the Chinese lack of integration. "The morals of this class are anything but pure."
p. 256 Apparently Tamalpais could mean "bay country mountain" in... Miwok?
p. 257 Here and elsewhere Brewer laments the fact that the Spanish land grants have left huge tracts of land in the hands of a few, preventing smaller farmers from settling and making a living for themselves. I wonder if this is at least partially responsible for the relatively large areas of land that have been conserved in the West.
p. 261 meerschaum (n): a soft white mineral, often used for pipes.
p. 295 "Previous to 1848 the river was noted for the purity of its waters, flowing from the mountains as clear as crystal; but, since the discovery of gold, the 'washings' render it as muddy and turbid as is the Ohio at spring flood" Again he draws the connection between mining and environmental changes, and the decreasing utility of the river as a result, but digs no further. Later he describes the silt as "surely filling up the Bay of San Francisco" (p. 328). He seems perfectly free with his opinions in other matters (e.g. the "feelings of deep disgust" (p. 322) excited by most Indians he meets), so why doesn't he at least worry over the wanton destruction of the landscape he so enjoys exploring? Was there some stigma associated with criticizing "progress" and Westward expansion?
p. 348 "At Tomales there are several houses, but the only one where we could get 'accommodations' was a very low Irish groggery, kept by a 'lady.'" He's none too fond of the Irish either. Gotta love the word "groggery" though.
p. 367 He says Marin was pronounced "Ma-reen'", whereas today we pronounce it mah-RIN, last syllable rhyming with "tin." Wonder when that changed.
p. 411 "Such was our camp—picturesque, romantic; but prosy truth bids me to say that mosquitoes swarmed in myriads, with not one-tenth the fear but with twice the ferocity of a southern Secessionist." One of those things that hasn't changed. Speaking of Secessionists, he often calls them "Secesh," as in "We have a lot of 'Secesh' at my boarding house." Love it.
p. 434 glutton (n): a synonym for wolverine!
p. 474 "You at home little know the blessed charm that letters can have, their true value to the person that wanders, homeless and desolate, especially when his bed is the ground and his canopy the sky, and when all he holds dear is so far away."
p. 493 On the subject of "half-breed" white/Indians, he writes, "It is a good American doctrine that a man not entirely white has few rights or privileges that a pure white is bound to respect..." On the same page, he laments the murder of many Indians at the hands of white settlers: "They went in the night to this island and murdered the whole of these people! Women, children, infants at their mothers' breasts, decrepit, infirm, and aged people were killed in cold blood and with the most revolting cruelty." He then goes on to say that their husbands and fathers now plague the area, seeking revenge, and the only solution is "their absolute extermination." People of the future will probably look back on our time and marvel at the same discordancy between our professed compassionate egalitarianism and our unwillingness to intervene when genocide threatens predominantly non-white nations. I guess the recognition of our hypocrisy is a step in the right direction. Yay?
p. 521 "A few days ago, before we got the deer, the boys shot a large arctic owl, an enormous fellow. They dressed and cooked him. I have often heard of 'biled owl,' but this is the first time that I have practically tested it, and it is nothing to brag of—strong, tough, and with a rather mousy flavor." Ew. Just... ew.
p. 546 "They are generally the 'poor white trash' from the frontier slave states..." Wikipedia would have us believe that the phrase "white trash" emerged in the 1830s among black slaves to describe poor whites. Amazing.
p. 567 "begirt with a hackamore" apparently means "encompassed by a kind of bitless bridle," as in the animals doesn't have a bar of metal in its mouth....more
Haven't used it too much, but it is highly technical, and most of the keys seem to assume you have a whole specimen in hand, flower, fruit, and leavesHaven't used it too much, but it is highly technical, and most of the keys seem to assume you have a whole specimen in hand, flower, fruit, and leaves. Nevertheless, it's comprehensive, and unlike the full Jepson, you can carry it in a backpack....more
I think this is the only field guide exclusively dedicated to the opisthobranchs of the nearshore Eastern Pacific, so I guess we should be grateful thI think this is the only field guide exclusively dedicated to the opisthobranchs of the nearshore Eastern Pacific, so I guess we should be grateful that it's pretty good. Fairly comprehensive, including undescribed species, with photos and range information for all (no maps, though). Most entries have etymological info, which is always a plus. My main complaints are 1) it doesn't seem to respond too well to getting wet, which sort of happens a lot when you're tidepooling, and 2) there is usually only one photo per species, which can be a bit limiting for species with multiple morphs (e.g. Acanthodoris rhodoceras)....more
Haven't had to use this too much yet, but my one dip in to look up thornbacks was pretty promising. Lots of detailed information, with decent illustraHaven't had to use this too much yet, but my one dip in to look up thornbacks was pretty promising. Lots of detailed information, with decent illustrations. I don't actually see sharks and rays in the wild that often, so I'm guessing this will be more of a go-to reference when I read about CA elasmobranchs elsewhere....more
Pretty much a series of chronologies littered with amusing anecdotes. Definitely a botanical bias, almost no attention paid to invertebrates, though tPretty much a series of chronologies littered with amusing anecdotes. Definitely a botanical bias, almost no attention paid to invertebrates, though that might be because many of CA's inverts were described after 1900. Certainly not recommended for those not interested in California's flora and fauna, and I even hesitate to recommend it to anyone who isn't fairly well acquainted the scientific names of said beasts, because half the fun is finally learning who Cooper or Eschscholtz were. Despite that, I actually felt like the author left out a lot of important names, often relying on common names, some of which were ... possibly wrong, or perhaps way outdated (the Giant Marbled Salamander of p. 59 was pretty obviously a CA Giant Salamander, never heard the "Giant Marbled" name).
Thaddieus Haenke, bassoonist, sailed to South America to join a botanical expedition, his ship sank but he swam to shore saving only his copy of Linnaeus's Genera Plantarum, hiked across the continent over the Andes to meet his party in Santiago, Chile. Amazing. (p. 19)
Archibald Menzies (surgeon and naturalist) was once described as "The Red faced man who cut off the limbs of men and gathered grass." I want that on my gravestone. (p. 41)
Speaking of epitaphs, David Douglas was gored to death by a bull in Hawaii. His stone read Victimia scientia. (p. 124)
Botta's description of Anna's Hummingbird was perfect: "... a little ball of glowing iron throwing off rays of sparks. When several of them light on the same branch, the Arabian amateur of marvels might take it for a bough covered with precious stones, as in a dream from The Thousand and One Nights." (p. 84)
Audubon had a crush on Heermann's mom. (p. 239)
Apparently San Franciscans used to eat soup made from Western Pond Turtles (Clemmys marmorata). (p. 243)
Pretty good set of regional keys. No photos of the plants, though there are photo plates of habitats and numerous line drawings. Keys seem decent, andPretty good set of regional keys. No photos of the plants, though there are photo plates of habitats and numerous line drawings. Keys seem decent, and the species descriptions, while brief, include localities. The Tom Killion print on the cover is, of course, beautiful, but the maps on the inside covers are also very fine, showing the whole county and a detail of the Mt. Tam area. Having this book makes me want to spend more time in Marin....more
This is one of the most amazing biological guides ever. In addition to being an almost comprehensive guide to most macroscopic fungi of the western USThis is one of the most amazing biological guides ever. In addition to being an almost comprehensive guide to most macroscopic fungi of the western US, it is also weird, hilarious, and just plain wacky. Pretty much every time I grab it to look something up, I come across some new gem from Arora. Here's one I just found:
Since so few bracket fungi are edible, they are ignored by most people and barely mentioned in many popular mushroom books. As I am also ignored by most people (and have yet to be mentioned in any kind of book), I feel I have something vital in common with these unheralded but indispensable organisms. Therefore, a fairly extensive (but by no means comprehensive) treatment is offered here, in hopes that readers will at least learn to notice polypores, if not identify them.
California is an enlightened state that guarantees open access to its coastline, and this guide catalogs pretty much every single public access point,California is an enlightened state that guarantees open access to its coastline, and this guide catalogs pretty much every single public access point, along with historical and ecological side notes. My favorite parts are the tables describing the types of terrain at each spot, b/c I am always looking for rocky areas with tidepools....more
You know how finishing a great novel leaves a gaping void in your life? Well, having just finished Between Pacific Tides, a nigh-encyclopedic accountYou know how finishing a great novel leaves a gaping void in your life? Well, having just finished Between Pacific Tides, a nigh-encyclopedic account of the intertidal invertebrates found on the California coast, I feel just the opposite. This book is not a story that ends, but an introduction to a world of endless fascination, suffusing the reader (well, this reader) with the wonder and curiosity of its authors, particularly of the legendary Ed Ricketts, original and primary author of the book, and the basis of the much beloved character Doc in Steinbeck's Cannery Row.
Reading it cover-to-cover is akin to reading a dictionary, but it isn’t necessary to do so. It’s just as fun to dip in and out, skip forward and back, revel in the depth and detail or simply appreciate the magnificent breadth of variety to be found, a reading experience not unlike tidepooling itself! It’s certainly not a field guide meant for quick identification, but a work to be consulted at home, or in the car, before and after an excursion.
It is also, on occasion, hilarious, especially on matters culinary. On the subject of brazenly colored but seemingly helpess sea slugs, the authors write,
It might be supposed that so tender-looking a morsel, apparently defenseless, would not last long among the voracious tide-pool animals, but for some reason as yet unknown the nudibranchs are avoided. Obviously this challenge to all enterprising human tasters could not go unanswered indefinitely. Professor Herdman took up the gauntlet by eating a vividly colored nudibranch alive. He reported that it had a pleasant oysterlike flavor, so the question remains open. (p. 65)
You also must appreciate the unbelievably cryptic nomenclature on display in a book by well-meaning experts who, in their excitement, occasionally forget their lay audience:
S. gibbsii is interesting in that it plays host to several other animals: a commensal pea crab, a parasitic and degenerate rhizocephalan cirripede, and a vermiform copepod, Scolecodes huntsmani, which more nearly resembles a degenerate isopod. (p. 289)
And the linguistic erudition on display isn't strictly biological: the word flocculent ("like a tuft of wool") was new to me, as was the phrase "hoist by their own petard" (p. 423), apparently employed in Hamlet and roughly meaning "blown up by your own bomb."
Finally, reading the prefaces by Ricketts himself, his friend John Steinbeck, Calvin, Hedgpeth, and Phillips, one feels that while much of the book's humanity is pure Ricketts, it is the living, breathing product of generations of Pacific Coast naturalists, a store of knowledge whose factual details may shift with our understanding of the subject matter, but whose attitude and enthusiasm will remain undiminished as long as there are readers who respond in kind. The book is history, biography, science, and art. I'd recommend it for anyone who loves the world, and those willing (perhaps even eager!) to learn what a rhizocephalan cirripede might be....more