Just before my trip abroad, I came across Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways. I remembered Macfarlane’s name from the introduction he wrote to one of my favorites, J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, in the NYRB Classics edition. That was a good sign. And the topic of his book! A best-seller across Ye Pond, The Old Ways is about walking the ancient paths of Britain. Needless to say, I had to read it before walking along some of those very paths, ancient drove roads, and holloways — the very route, perhaps, that my ancestor Thomas Wills (1742-?) took when he crossed from Higher Hisley, a farm in Lustleigh on the eastern slope of Dartmoor, to Tavistock, the old stannary town on the west side of Dartmoor. Of course, we may have the wrong Thomas Wills in that moorish distance, but a Thomas Wills of Tavistock’s son Richard (1762-1833) is a sure link in the genetic chain. He lit out for some completely new ways, joining the British East India Company as a mercenary and never returning, ending up on St. Helena, where Napoleon would be exiled the second, more successful time; his (Richard’s, not Napoleon’s) grandson brought my great great grandfather Robert William Coventry Wills to America from St. Helena as a child in the 1870s. Ah, but I get side-tracked. That’s what happens on a path, when you come to a crossing. So I read The Old Ways, and liked it very much, along with his (Macfarlane’s) earlier The Wild Places; now I look forward to his Mountains of the Mind. In eight days of walking 90 miles around the Dartmoor Way, I came across only about a dozen other walkers, two of them fellow Yanks, so perhaps the book’s best-seller-dom was largely of the armchair enthusiastic sort. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, yet I wonder if there’s a comparison between a kind of nostalgia for walking these ancient trails — but not so much the actual walking of them — and the rise in bird-watching, which in some sense is a nostalgic activity because there are fewer and fewer birds to be seen.In Macfarlane, I learned of Roger Deakin. Deakin’s book Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, which he finished just before his passing, sounded like it was something I must read, too. “The enemies of woods are always the enemies of culture and humanity,” noted Deakin, stepping aside from his usual politeness. How true that is, even expanded into the “enemies of nature are the enemies of humanity.” Deaking also admitted “I have the kind of weakness for wood other people have for puppies or chocolates.” Like Macfarlanes books, Wildwood is episodic, sometimes only remote woods-oriented, but always fascinating and thought-provoking. I must track his other books down. Inspired by him, I titled this post after the generally disparaging term, used by the digitally-deluded, for physical books, which are, of course, recycled trees. While abroad, I was also reading Henry Williamson’s Tarka The Otter, which takes place in Devon and hence was mandatory. I also learned about this from Macfarlane. First published in 1927, Tarka has evidently been in print for ever in the UK, but is harder to find on this side of the Big Leat. In London, I purchased a Penguin edition at Waterstones after failing at Foyles (“If you can’t find it there…” said the women in the gift store at the Natural History Musuem). It’s an animal story, but not one for the tots. Written by a veteran of the First World War’s trenches, it is not in the least sentimental. Indeed, it’s the opposite of all that: all the otters come to brutal ends at the hand of man and dog, and long passages detailing otter hunting, a “sport” said to be older than fox hunting — you can vomit over this breezy Sports Illustrated piece about the “sport” from 1955 — brought to mind escaped slaves being hounded. Williamson later joined the British Union of Fascists (cf. Mosley and those Horrible Mitfords, slapped down by old P.G. Wodehouse as the Black Shorts) which rightfully sunk his reputation, and hardly anybody reads his numerous other books anymore, but this intense attempt to see the world from an animal’s point of view (making it quite the double feature with The Peregrine, which may be said to be even more anti-sentimental) came before that grotesquery. It is a rather uneven novel, but one I think bears more recognition over here. The sentimental animal stories so often found in popular culture warp us; Williamson’s red-in-tooth-and-claw veers too far to the other extreme, but is nonetheless a sharp corrective. Interestingly, Rachel Carson considered Tarka a key influence. These are lines from Williamson carved into a footbridge over the River Taw on the Tarka Trail. My route, the Dartmoor Way, merged with the TT through lush Belstone Cleave between Sticklepath and Belstone, where the publican at The Tors Inn suggested I drop down into the valley of the East Okement, rejoining the TT towards Okehampton. Done. Then I got back on the DW, which from Okehampton to Tavistock was also the West Devon Way (which was blazed, hallelujah!). Following the TT backwards would have taken me past North Tawton, where Ted Hughes lived for many years. Hughes was fascinated by Tarka, too, and evidently got to know the prickly Williamson. Hughes’ Moortown poems, about the years he helped run his father-in-law’s Devon farm in the 1970s, give you a visceral sense of livestock farming, like fingers reaching into a ewe on a cold morning to help pull out her lamb.
Posts Tagged 'books'
Tags: birds, books, horseshoe crab
I didn’t make it to the beach to witness the annual rites of spring of the Horseshoe Crabs (Limulus polyphemus). But I did manage a virtual trip with this beautiful book. Life Along The Delaware: Cape May, Gateway to a Million Shorebirds by Niles, Burger, and Dey, with photography by van de Kam, was published by Rutgers University Press last year. It’s a coffee table book with luscious photographs, but also one with a scientific bent. Indeed, even a point. The Bay is one of the most important ecosystems on the East Coast, but isn’t nearly as well-known as the Chesapeake. It’s especially important for shorebirds in migration, those epic flights to and from breeding grounds in Arctic Canada. For at least since the last ice age, this migration has coincided with the annual Horseshoe Crab breeding season. Massive amounts of Horseshoe eggs fed these long distance migrants, providing a vital half-way point. After more than a century of slaughtering Horseshoes for fertilizer, bait, and medicine, there are now many less Horseshoe crabs. Hence, less birds. A subspecies of Red Knot (Calidris canutus) in particular has been hard hit. These birds are known to fly six days straight (songbirds migrate during the evenings only, resting and eating during the day); indeed, before starting from Patagonia, Red Knots shrink their digestive systems to lessen their weight (mirroring the ability of birds to shrink their gonads once breeding season is over). The easily digested, protein-rich Horseshoe eggs are vital to the survival of the Red Knots. This is the main story told in this book, but it’s not the only one. It’s thoughtful, up-to-date, and, as noted, extremely well-illustrated.
Two punks from Bergen Beach were recently busted for poaching horseshoes from Jamaica Bay. Telsons should to driven into their gonads. They were caught pretty much by accident, by NYPD detectives testing night-vision gear in a helicopter. Park Police have a boat, but it remains tied to the dock.
David George Haskell’s The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature is a must-read. Haskell observes a small patch of (very rare) old-growth Tennessee forest through the course of a year and reports on what he experiences, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. It is a book of meditations, grounded, quite literally, in a little patch of woodlands. I highly recommend it. See also Haskell’s blog.
Take, for instance, Haskell’s chapter on deer. He begins with the intimate relationship of gut biota in a ruminant, which allows it to eat plant material that we non-ruminants simply can’t stomach. (The part of this biological fact we are most familiar with is the meat industry’s feeding of corn to cows, which makes these grass-eaters sort of permanently sick, so that they are pumped full of antibiotics — analogous to our over-medicated society — which spread through the environment and, part and parcel of the environment, ourselves). From there he considers our contemporary deer problem, vast herds overbrowsing the forests and the suburbs. But things become more complex, considering our conceptions of woodlands were largely formed during a time when the deer population was nearly non-existent, an anomaly in North American history. Pre-Columbian Native Americans lived in regions filled to the brim with deer, a primary source of protein as well as a raw material for their entire culture; indeed, by making edge habitat with fire, they fostered deer parks. And before any humans were in North America, a reign of megafauna herbivores munched away at the forests, probably making deer-browse look amateurish. So what then is “natural” here?
Speaking of nature, Haskell also recently published this wonderfully sly Op-Ed about the myriad forms of sexuality to coincide with the fundamentalist argument about the alleged unnaturalness of homosexuality in the Supreme Court. Why, just walking outside the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC, one discovers bisexual trees; gay ducks; hermaphrodite snails (with their arrows of desire); fungi, which are more akin to animals than plants but which don’t have sexes as either animals or plants would understand the term; and intersexed humans, who are born with characteristics of both the male and the female.
make the best gifts. For the natural history nerds on your list, here are all the books I’ve noted on this blog. And these are my four my most recent reviews if you want to jump ahead:
Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy
The Dawn of the Deed by John A. Long
Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead
Empire of the Beetle by Andrew Nikiforuk
What are you reading and recommending these days?
From the staff picks shelf at Spotty Dog Books and Ale, Hudson NY. Technically I’m not on staff there, but through the magic of the internet…
Tags: books, Climate
Long time passing. Sharon Levy’s Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About The Fate of Earth’s Largest Animals is hard to put down. It’s sort of a Pleistocene CSI: 13,000 years later, scientists are trying to put together the pieces of what happened to the large animals of North America. These include giant short-faced bear, dire wolf, mastodon, saber toothed cat, mammoth, giant ground sloth, tapir, giant beaver, lion, camel, stag moose, horse, and more. It was once thought that climate change did them in. Then it was argued that human hunting, overkil, did the deed, for the animals disappeared in rather a short time just after the first humans arrived in the Americas. Now the best bet on this kind of thinking may be a synthesis of both climate change/habitat shift and expanding human population. The animals had, after all, survived many interglacial warming periods between ice ages before. What they hadn’t meet before were humans, the technologically-armed predator (cf. Clovis points). Weakened by environmental stresses caused by a warming planet, the animals, usually (like the elephant today) slow to mature and slow to breed, became vulnerable at the species level to expanding humans. And the animals that predated the big herbivores were deprived to food, and around it went, the cycle of extinction.
The story is not unique to the New World. About 45,000 years ago, the giant mammals of Australia began to disappear. This was just after humans reached there. The story is repeated on big islands the world over. And on the largest of the landmasses, Eurasia. Finally, humans got to New Zealand, only about 750 years ago, and within a short period all nine species of flightless moas, some of which towered over people, were gone. When Europeans arrived there, they found nothing but the bones of thousands of these birds.
African megafauna survived best, possible because they had evolved with humans for a longer period of time. Now, of course, with the pressures of human population pressing them on all sides, they are severely threatened. They are the last of the megafauna.
What is particularly interesting about Levy’s book is the way she elucidates the complexities of competing theories and faint evidence, and the interwoven story about how these giant mammals changed their habitats, and how, with them absent, these habitats have suffered since. Transporting seed, depositing fertilizer, breaking up the ground with their hooves, browsing grasses or shrubs (depending on species), they created habitat which has since disappeared or been severely reduced. The giant beavers, like their little, surviving, cousins, were engineers of wetlands on a continental scale. (Levy doesn’t mention this, but the near extinction of the North American beaver by the European fur trade from the 17th century onwards radically changed the face, and nature, of the continent.)
Large predators also turn out to be key regulators of habitat, as the reintroduction of wolves has shown in the American West. They prey on the herbivores who would otherwise deforest the area. Dingoes in Australia — descended from Indian wolves — are another good example; they regulate the mesopredators, those mid-level predators (in Australia’s case, introduced foxes and feral cats) that wreck havoc without something policing them. Raccoons and feral cats are the equivalent North America plague.
Both wolves and dingoes are of course controversial cases; the ruralists in both the U.S. and Australia are very much against them. The struggles to reintroduce wolves in the U.S. and to keep Aussies from slaughtering dingoes are real world brakes to “Pleistocene rewilding.” This means introducing similar animals to the extinct species — elephants, camels, etc. — in places that haven’t seen anything like them in 13,000 years, so they can help to bring back some semblance of environmental order to the chaos. (Invasive introductions have a rather poor track record, though.) Of course, with big herbivores, you need big predators, and it seems unlikely that many people are going to want to see lions reintroduced to Wyoming any time soon. The introduction of horses back to the New World by Spaniards is a case study, inadvertent as it is, of such rewilding.
You should definitely read this book for more details, for in the study of the past there may be keys to the future, and saving the world’s last remaining megafauna.
“We all know about the birds and the bees…” goes the jacket and webpage copy for this book, but do we? In fact, I can’t think of a stranger duo of examples to be used as an euphemism for courtship and sex. Queen honey bees, for instance, are impregnated by multiple drones on their mating flights; the male bees are torn asunder in the process and fall to earth to die afterwards. While many birds have complicated courtship rituals, including nest and bower building, the actual fertilization is extremely brief. Cloaca (charmingly, from the Latin for sewer) connect, sperm is exchanged, and that’s it. The fastest copulation on record is a bird’s; the dunnocks take a tenth of a second, while flying. Since birds are essentially dinosaurs, does this mean the dinosaurs did it the same way, too? Probably not, actually, because flightless birds like ostriches and emus have penises (defined here as “any male reproductive structure used to transfer sperm into a female” for internal fertilization), and so do ducks and geese, and these species are genetically more primitive, that is, closer to the originating dinosaurs, than perching birds. Passerines don’t need penises and have dropped them, so to speak, over evolutionary time.
Author Long was one of the discoverers of a 380-million year old placoderm fossil in Australia that revealed an embryo, the oldest evidence of internal fertilization. Placoderms were armored fish-like animals common on earth until extinction about 359 million years ago; current thinking pegs them as the ancestor of all jawed animals. This finding becomes the wide-ranging focus of the question of internal fertilization, perhaps the most complicated form of animal reproduction, and the nature of the tools necessary for such processes.
Speaking of tools… is it inevitable that such a topic brings out the bad puns? Maybe only amongst us boys. There a couple such groaners here, including the title. The original Australian title of the book suggests some extra-cultural differences: Hung Like An Argentine Duck. The males of the duck species in question have a corkscrew-shaped penis longer than their bodies, but it’s the goose barnacle that takes the prize. In some species, the barnacle penis can be up to eight times the length of the body. Barnacles also shed and then grow new ones every year. Barnacle willies are also habitat sensitive: rough water will result in different shapes than calm water. Somehow, though, I doubt this information will be entering the popular discourse.
This edition was published by the University of Chicago Press. There are examples of horrendous editing in its pages. There’s a lot of this in books now, but it’s more distressing when found in a university press edition.
Tim Birkhead’s Bird Sense: What’s It’s Like to Be a Bird details our current knowledge of birds and the history of how we got to this state. Written for the lay reader, a person with an interest in the world; by which I mean it’s hardly necessary that you be a bird watcher to enjoy this. In chapters titled Seeing, Hearing, Touch, Taste, Smell, Magnetic Sense, and (what?) Emotions, Birkhead examines the world of birds, as much as we can, understanding there’s lots more to know, and probably some things we may never know.
Here are some for instances: birds have major seasonal changes in their internal organs. Sex organs, in particular, grow much larger during breeding in response to hormones triggered by day length. Then they shrink back down to non-breeding insignificance. This may not be all that surprising — the human male equivalent would have our testes shrinking to the “size of apple pips” during football season, when most American males don’t have sex — but parts of the bird brain also expand and contract through the year. This is because bird song, an essential part of territory and breeding, requires more brain power. Birds also hear better during breeding season (at this point Birkhead notes that oestrogen, in the British spelling, makes women think men’s voices sound richer, which I’ll call the Barry White Effect). I’m no instrumentalist, but I realize many humans are nothing if not narcissistic and can only wonder who should care about bird brains, but discovering how brains regenerate annually may have tremendous application for humans, cf. Alzheimer’s. Meanwhile, the hair cells in bird ears are continuously renewed; this isn’t the case in humans, once these babies are dead they’re gone, which is why we start to lose our hearing as we age (and headbangers squander it earlier). Not to be confused with the hairs that grow on the external portion of our primate ears.
Some birds, fowl in particular, use one eye for close-up work, like distinguishing food from pebbles, and one for distinguishing hawks from clouds. Keep an eye on the sky! Raptors are famed for their vision, much more acute than human eyesight, and this book explains the physiological reasons why. And most birds also see UV light as well as the red/green/blue we see. The Kiwi, meanwhile, can barely see at all, but that’s OK because it’s nocturnal and can sniff and feel out buried prey with their very acute bills. Oh, and birds can sleep while they fly. Some birds, like the loud crakes and booming bitterns, can actually block their ears to their own sounds so they don’t damage their own hearing. Owls on the wing fly very quietly; their feathers are adapted to muffle sound, which makes it easier to swoop upon prey, but also so that the sound their own wings make doesn’t interfere with their acute hearing; they can hear animals under the snow. Owls also have excellent night vision, but they can’t fly in complete darkness (unlike bats, who echolocate, as do oilbirds and some swiftlets). On some overcast moonless nights, it is extremely dark in the woods, and one of the ways owls adapt to these times is by getting to know their terrain, sometimes living in it for years, like the back of their wings.
The book is full of such amazing details. Richard Dawkins has noted that “the greatest story ever told” is the history of evolution on earth. Its manifestations are all around us, and make the human fantasies of sky gods snapping their fingers to create life (and then letting the majority of it die off?) paltry stuff indeed.
The book’s simple cover design is a beaut. That’s the British edition pictured above; the U.S. one drops the artist’s name, Katrina van Grouw, whose own book looks amazing, down to the bottom. Inside, there’s this delightful dingbat or hedera (from the Latin for ivy, since the curlicues originally so used as punctuation looked ivy-ish): Unmistakable silhouettes of swifts.
Tags: beetles, books, insects, invertebrates
“I’m here to protect the trees from the beetle,” said the academic. The logger laughed and said that was bullshit. “The trees and the beetles have been in cahoots for millions of years.”In Empire of the Beetle, Andrew Nikiforuk tells the tale of the destruction caused by the disruption of that cahoot-ness, as tiny beetles, spectacular ignorance and mismanagement by humans, and climate change have united to destroy 30 billion lodgepole, pinyon, ponderosa, and whitebark pine trees in western North American during the last two decades, radically transforming individual human lives and communities.
Essentially, the beetles, de facto forest managers, used to hit old and already weakened trees, creating the conditions for the fires necessary to clear away competition for the trees and fertilize new seedlings sprouting from the seeds from heat-sprung cones. The fires would also cut back on the beetles, who otherwise might increase ad infinitum. Colder winters also checked beetle populations. A century of fire suppression and then runs of impotent winters resulted in locust-like plagues of Dendroctonus (“tree killing”) species bark beetles.
The locust analogy is illustrative: in the late 1870s, Melanoplus spretus exploded across the prairies, devouring everything in their path from grain to leather, wool, and the family laundry. A migratory grasshopper, the locust moved from food source to food source in massive clouds. Estimates of the number of these Rocky Mountain locusts are given in the trillions and measured by the ton. (The film Days of Heaven gives a spectacular, hallucinatory suggestion of what it was like for humans to be caught up in this storm of insects.) And then, as the locusts’ grasslands habitat was undone by plow and irrigation, the locust disappeared. The last known specimen was taken in 1902. It is now considered extinct.
Meanwhile, one of the methods used to try to stop the bark beetles was arsenic. Jesus. That turned out to kill one of the most effective anti-beetle defenses, fifteen species of woodpeckers (termed “bark-foraging wildlife tree users” by some bureaucrat).
Consider these rice grain-sized beetles. Like all animals, they are also zoological compendium, carrying multiple species of bacteria, yeasts, fungi, mites, and nematodes, which themselves are transporters of fungi and etc. (A blue-staining fungi carried by the beetles has resulted in a desperate timber industry selling “denim pine.”) Nature is close enough to infinite, and we have only the vaguest understandings of how it works. This book, with its fugue in awe of beetles, one of the dominant life forms on the planet, is a good place to start our educations.
Tonight’s full moon is the Sturgeon Moon. August will also have a Blue Moon, or second full moon within the month, on the 31st.
Those were the days, when sturgeon were once so common on the East Coast and Great Lakes that Native Americans set their lunar calendar to them. Now these ancient fish are few and far between, and there are damn few of the big ones left. As with tuna, cod, etc. (and trees!) our unnatural selection of the large specimens has meant that it’s been the small fry who get to reproduce, leading over time to physically smaller populations (as well as greatly reduced numbers as well, of course, via unsustainable harvests).
Earth: 4.5 billion years old. Extinction of the dinosaurs: 65 million years ago. Homo erectus: 1.8 million years ago. Homo sapiens: 200,000 years ago. Settlement of Australia: 40-60,000 years ago (by boat, people, by boat!). Last Neanderthal: 25-30,000 years ago.
How do we know these dates (as vague as some of the are)? Chris Turney explains radiocarbon, potassium-argon, argon-argon, amino acid racemization, accelerator mass spectrometry, electron spin resonance, luminescence (optically stimulated and thermo), uranium series, and uranium-lead dating, as well as tree rings, cultural typologies, and the calendar. None of these is foolproof, although tree rings are surprisingly close, though they only go back a few thousand years, and have the added benefit of being a climate marker. The calendar itself is fascinating, a jumble of traditions dating back (but when precisely?) to the Babylonians. The Egyptians kept good records, but reset their calendars with every king. I’ve always thought the BC thing, counting backwards, was pure crazy. And it turns out this Jesus fellow was supposedly born four years Before Christ was born. Go figure.
But one of the oddest things re: calendars was the transition from the Julian calendar, which was more than a week off by the 18th century; this updating was delayed in Protestant countries like Britain because they thought moving to the Gregorian calandar, however more accurate, would be too papist. But eventually the Brits did it (along with British North America): the 2nd of September, 1752, was a Wednesday, and it was followed by Thursday, the 14th of September, 1752. “Give us our eleven days” says the banner on the floor in this Hogarth riot:Hence the “O.S.” for Old Style found in early 18th century dates. Because of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russia didn’t update until the 1917 Revolution.
Damn poor design to have the planet not run on schedule.
I picked up the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by Beadle and Leckie as soon as it came out earlier this year. I’d been anticipating it because I’ve been following Seabrooke Leckie’s blog for several years now. In fact, I was inspired to blog myself by her example.
Moths, which well outnumber the butterflies in the order Lepidoptera, are a subject I know little about. Usually nocturnal, often small and nondescript (Lepidopterans roll their eyes), they are a generally elusive. Most of us probably know them best as those things which batter against lights on summer nights. Now that I’m armed with this book I should do better.
I wanted to test the book out when I first got it, but it was early in the mothing year. Not much flying around. I chose the moth closest to me at the time.
I first identified the Meal moths who hang out in the hallway of my building using the NWF’s Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans ~ an excellent guide, but necessarily limited, even at 500 pages, in what it can include. For instance, Evans has some 40 pages of moths (c. 120 species), while B&L have 500 pages (c. 1,500 species). Evans is now working on a guide to just our beetles, which is something to anticipate. B&L note that there are around 11,000 species of moths in North America, an impossible number for a field guide, so of course they’ve had to winnow. They’ve done that geographically (sorry, Westerners, Southerners) and to the most common and most eye-catching (a subjective enterprise, but what are you going to do when it comes to the great numbers of insect species? There are no doubt moths that have never been identified).
So I knew they were Meal moths. How would I find them in the Peterson without hitting the index? As it happens there’s no entry for “Meal moth” in the index. Ah, there’s the rub: how do you organize 1,500 species? Hell, how about merely 300 or so species, as in, say, the birds? A friend has asked more than once why all the yellow birds aren’t clumped together, for instance. One of our most preeminent yellow birds is the male American Goldfinch, whose black wings contrast strongly with its butter-yellow body. However, the female isn’t nearly this yellow, and the male isn’t either during the non-breeding months…. Birds are usually done taxonomically, but that means diddly to most of us. However, the more you use a taxonomic field guide, the better at it you get. This moth guide is also taxonomic. When you first use it, that won’t mean much if you’re a novice. But the more you page through it, the better you’ll get.
I opened the book, handily enough, directly to the page with a Meal moth on it. Awesome, a field guide that anticipates my needs! More recently, a friend’s Twitter sent a Flickr link to an “Unknown butterfly” which I was pretty sure was a moth. I paged through, found one I thought appropriate, had second thoughts, paged through some more and found it. Then I noticed the very species was on the book’s cover! An Eight-spotted Forester, a handsome black-winged, white-spotted moth with orange tuffs on the legs. Stylin’! I look forward to some real challenges in the future. The book includes a moth bait recipe — basically a ripe banana, molasses and beer, since not all moths go into the light — that with the addition of yogurt would probably make a pretty good smoothie.
The Eight-spotted Forester — I mean, the thing has orange muffs! –is also a good reminder that while many moths are tan, grey, brown, and/or modestly marked, others are quite spectacular, like the silk moths and tiger moths. All my moths can be seen here.
Here’s one I pulled out of my archives. I didn’t know what it was, besides being an “Emerald.” According to this guide, it’s Synchlora aerata, a Wavy-lined Emerald. Now, that’s a field guide!