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Awesome Field Guide: John Muir Laws

July 21, 2008
from John Muir Laws new natural history book

from John Muir Laws new natural history book

I love books. I always have. I love to be surrounded by them. Books have always offered me a warm loving home. When I was growing up, I saved my money to buy books, even though I practically lived at the library. There is something about owning a book, being able to return to it, to hold it.

As a naturalist, as an outdoor adventurer and as a writer, I especially love field guides–I even have a whole collection of Petersen Guides, and most of the Audubon ones. As an avid birder for over 20 years, I have a beautiful collection of bird books. Many of these I purchased but I am also grateful to have inherited the library of travelers, educators, and naturalists Blanche and Herb Elkins who owned and operated a film strip company in the 60s and 70s.

So when I spied a new field guide to the Sierra Nevada, I told the Big Monkey, “We’re going to buy this field guide” in a tone of voice that said no questions or comments (like, don’t you think you have enough books already??)

Before I have much of a chance to look at it, the Big Monkey was fully engrossed in it, sitting at the picnic table in a Sierra Nevada campsite and checking it out with the boy beside him.

“How did you know this was going to be such a great book?” he asked.

cover to the new field guide by John Muir Laws

cover to the new field guide by John Muir Laws

Well I told him

Sign #1: Flipping through it, I noticed the pictures were well drawn, vivid, engaging.

Sign #2: It was well organized and thorough–color coded, by family, from fungi to trees and shrubs to flowers to moths to beetles to fish to snakes to mammals to birds to tracks– and it even includes star charts!

Sign #3: It’s published by Heydey Books, a small non-profit in Berkeley which puts out strong often California centric books.

Sign #4: It’s also produced by California Academy of Sciences.

Sign #5: The author, John Muir Laws, is a research associate there, studied scientific illustration at my alma mater, Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp, and has appropriate degrees from UC Bezerkley and Missoula.

Sign #6: He acknowledges David Lukas, an unusually observant naturalist and talented writer I met many years ago at Squaw Valley writers camp.

Sign #7: It surprises readers with interesting bits of info about the species on the page like mimicry and stink bug defense, and environmental challenges all species on this planet face.

When I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, we carried Storer and Usinger’s Guide the whole way; that was our bible, plus we had the National Geographic guide to birds, and Audubon wildflowers. When I do the PCT again in a few years with the now small boy, this will likely be the guide we will take. In the meantime, it will travel with us in our VW campervan!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2008 11:42 pm

    I love Bird books especially. I have lots and fish books too. I have a Field Guide to Australian Birds that I’ve had for over thirty years. You are right they are some of the most beautiful books money can buy

  2. July 22, 2008 12:24 am

    I have a large size book of illustrated warblers of no america– that is my favorite

    also love one of peregrines of the world…beautiful illustrations

    in my library/study/spare room, i have up some framed bird prints that were my mother’s father’s–he had them carefully saved but never framed them although i have some prints he framed himself of vegetables that i hang in my kitchen!

    i should get a book on aussie birds–start studying up for when i’m out there in the barrossa valley tasting and drinking wine!

  3. Sally permalink
    August 21, 2009 10:34 am

    How did you know Herb and Blanche Elkins? My mother worked for them for many years.

  4. August 21, 2009 4:26 pm

    Wow, Sally, what a small world! The Elkins were my godparents. When I was in fourth grade, my parents took my brother, sister and I out of school for 6 weeks and much of that we traveled with Blanche and Herb in the southwest. I wish I could have had their ultravan–so many memories! And I loved their Sunland house in the oaks. I have some of their furniture as well–I had just finished backpacking from the Oregon border to the Canadian border when my former husband and I moved from a trailer into an apt and my parents, who were handling their estate and were the executers, sold us the furniture we needed. I am reminded of them every day: they had and continue to have huge influence on me.

  5. May 11, 2013 8:48 am

    Hello, I am trying to track down whatever happened to the Elkins’ Ultra Van. We recently discovered that the coach we thought was theirs was actually a different one, and nobody know what became of theirs.

  6. May 11, 2013 8:54 am

    I wish I knew! They kept it in such perfect shape. I can ask my dad; he might know. I’ll have him connect with you.

  7. May 11, 2013 12:08 pm

    Sorry, that was a bit cryptic.
    I am the Ultra Van Motor Coach Club historian/archivist/registrar, one of my responsibilities is trying to keep up with the current whereabouts of all 376 Ultra Vans (and 42 Tiara motorhomes).
    Club records indicate that Blanche was a member up until 1985. Do you have any idea what happened to the coach after she passed away?

  8. May 11, 2013 12:09 pm

    Oops, I should have refreshed my browser before I posted that. Thanks!

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