Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My Friend's Broken Back

A friend broke his back this weekend. Yes, a dear friend, my favorite flora. The book I carry in my pack everywhere to help me identify plants. It fell right out of its beaten up cover and split into parts. I'm very upset. It has all these helpful notes I've added. Little sketches. Memory tricks. Places I first saw a new plant, kinda like a first date. When his binding originally began to loosen, I wrapped him in a cloth bookcover my son used in grade school. Once, I was leading a wildflower ID hike in May with my friend wide open to the skies and we got hailed on for 15 minutes. I took him home and wiped every single of the 508 pages with a towel, and then left him on the kitchen counter for 3 days so I would flip the pages every time I walked by - they are a little stained but none of the pages stuck together.

The good news is that I remembered a fellow botanist who had the same flora fall apart and devised this cool way to put it in a ring binder with a special strap he slings around his shoulder. He's a real gear guy, so I am anxiously waiting his advice on how I can heal my book buddy. After a morning of searching, I can't find a binder that will fit his irregular 7" x 10" size. A bigger binder won't fit in my pack and won't be elegant enough for my friend. Help!

During a meeting this morning, I was still sorrowfully carrying around my wounded comrade, and trying to transition from a nature-filled weekend to the weekday office routine. I decided I better clean the "bookmarks" out of my friend's pages before I took him in for surgery. I found many pressed leaves and flowers, a ruler, a photo of a bull, and three owl feathers tucked throughout his pages. Then I brushed the debris off every single page of my friend with the biggest owl feather.

This is the name of my friend: Plants of the San Francisco Bay Region: Mendocino to Monterey, Linda H. Beidleman, Eugene N. Kozloff, 2003, 2nd Edition, University of California Press. My nickname for him is Kozloff.

And here's a cool trick I remembered by looking at the pile of pressed plants. You can write the name of a plant on the back of a leaf with a permanent pen. Then you can refer to it later to remember exactly how the leaf edges are inrolled or whatever obscure feature distinguishes that species from another.

While trying to cure myself of the worried book blues this evening, I started browsing through all my treasured field guides and plant books. Here is one that gave me solice for awhile.

A Natural History of Western Trees, Douglas Culross Peattie – old-fashioned charming descriptions of visual characters of trees and their uses. Often from the perspective of a lumber man but with much detail. I have the original 1950 first edition which never goes out into the field. An example of his prose: “Here is a tree that might have been created as the friend of mankind . . . this one stands apart. For it grows singly or in little groves in the interior valleys, along the sandy washes, the upside-down rivers of the desert, in the cool of the canyon walls, more needed where you find it than valuable if felled, sawn, dressed, and exported . . . The quality of its shade – broad but filmy-leaved . . . is never so dense as to be stuffy; ever the breeze moves about its boughs, and any stir of air, in the warm habitats it chooses, even the rangeland’s or the wheat field’s, is better than none. So the white-faced Herefords stand or lie for hours in the long burning summers beneath the Sycamores.” Wow. That man loves trees.

Just as I pledged to myself when I was getting treated for cancer, I have made promises about taking care of my friend if he gets better. I will brush him clean inside and out once a year. I will draw more sketches on his margins. I will memorize more plant families. I will brag about his fine qualities to many other people. And I will thank him frequently for his companionship and help in the field.


  1. Beautiful post. My favorite friend is the Audubon Society's Field Guide to California. Small enough to fit in a fanny pack, or even a pocket, and it covers plants, animals, rocks, weather...even stars! I go through them like wildfire because I am always giving them away and stashing extra copies someplace that I then can't find...

  2. PS - I also love Adolph Murie, the Alaskan wolf biologist. He anthropomorphises (no way is that spelled right) like crazy, but that's part of his charm.

  3. Gear guy came through and repairs are underway with a few unexpected adjustments I am still trying to figure out. Meanwhile, keying with this unclothed copy or the car copy or the work copy of Kozloff continues.


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