The Laws Field Guide
To the Sierra Nevada

John Muir Laws
(Heyday Books)
Bugs and beetles and birds and bears and butterflies and Brewer's Angelica. Have you ever seen a Toadbug, a Skunky Monkeyflower, or the Bufflehead? They are all here, in convenient form: it's a tall book, a lean book (and yet crammed with information in its 366 pages). On the cover is a color-edged guide to the nine sections, and, inside the cover, four to nine subsections. The birds ... hooray for those of us who can't tell a Phalarope from a Pewee, are separated into seven colors ... plus Waterbirds, Hawks, and Owls.

Every page contains five or ten drawings by the author. Exquisite detail of, say, migrating butterflies, so that if you, too, are a migrating butterfly, you can tell the ladies from the gents: the Painted Lady from the American Lady and both from the West Coast Lady and the Zerene Fritillary (what is it about the word "Fritillary" that is so, well, so fitting?)

There is a whole page on scat because, as Laws opines, "animal droppings are excellent clues about who lives in the area and what these animals have been eating." If we had our choice, we would choose Ptarmigan or Pika shit. Very pretty. Forget the Coyote and Fox. No sign of scat of the most dangerous beast of them all, what Mencken liked to call the Boobus americanus.

As far as flying things, give us the Hoary Bat, the Ruddy Duck (or Duddy Ruck) and the Harrier ("Harriers fly low to surprise prey, kites hover over meadows, ospreys dive for fish, and vultures scavenge for carrion"). One time my friends Rachael and Charlie were out in the high Sonoran desert, on a cliffside, in the lovely post-dawn roseate/gold quiet, and suddenly, from the valley below, up like an elevator, came an Army jet, zoom, then shot over their heads, screaming. Scared the scat out of them.

There is the Stealthy Ground Spider that comes upon you stealthily, the Running Spider that runs, and the Stealthy Ground Spider that gets ground-up, stealthily. ("Stealthily" is one of those words you wish you had in mind when you were playing "Superghost.")

Another is the Mountain Emerald, because it is a naiad, a word that would also work nicely in Scrabble. Do you know the Ringtail was called "Civit Cat" by miners. The Ringtail was "caught and tamed to rid tents and cabins of rodents."

The largest fly is the Giant Crane Fly that is said to suck your blood ("by the quart") but that is a canard, he (or she) only sups at the flowers that bloom. And the True Canard, or rather, the Candelariella, doesn't sup, it sucks: it grows on the branches of oak or pine.
162 pages are dedicated to plants, flowers, weeds, trees, bushes, and "Algea + Fungus = Lichen." Plants with names like poetry:
  • Mealy Pixie Cup
  • Brown Felt Blight
  • Quaking Aspen (they shake because "the leaf-stem is flattened near the leaf")
  • Utah Serviceberry ("May I serve you?")
  • Showy Penstemon
  • Gay Penstemon
  • Western Wallflower ("Woman who wallflower during dance make Dandelion on bed" --- Old Chinese Saying)
  • Common Fiddleneck (orange flowers curling back on themselves)
  • Grass-of-Parnassus
  • Coville's Groundsmoke
  • Common Horsetail Equisetum arvense which the author says "may be the oldest plant genus on earth," fossils from 300,000,000 years back. (Where were you in 300,000,000 B. C.?)

I went to look up the Consoersus Stink Bug in the index and lo! there was a picture of the stinkbug hovering there just over the common "Bushtit." Thus, even the index is crawling with creatures.

--- Richard Saturday
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