Winter Butterflies in Bolinas

Short days and a chilly breeze off the Pacific Ocean. Time for a winter story—at least, a Northern California winter story. Instead of snow, we have butterflies.

Monarch butterflies, to be exact. Mary Barber’s short essay Winter Butterflies in Bolinas describes the annual September arrival of thousands of Monarchs to the quiet Bolinas peninsula, on the Pacific coast an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. The migration has always fascinated scientists and public alike: Why do the butterflies migrate at all? What is special about the particular gathering points? What instinct guides them to the same trees every year?

Barber ends her tale with the story of a lone butterfly:

When on a yacht bound for the Farallone Islands members of the party saw one of these butterflies soaring over the ocean about ten miles from shore. It did not rest on the boat, but with wings spread before the east wind it sped away, folliwng the path of the setting sun like a soul in quest of the ideal. That evening a storm came on suddenly. What was the fate of that lone butterfly?

He died, unlike his mates I ween
Perhaps not sooner or worse crossed;
And he had felt, thought, known and seen
A larger life and hope, though lost
Far out at sea

Winter Butterflies in Bolinas was printed at the Tomoye Press in January 1918 by Ricardo J. Orozco. The decorations are by Rudolph F. Schaeffer. I have been unable to find out any information on Mary Barber.

Cover of "Winter Butterfiles in Bolinas"
Cover of “Winter Butterfiles in Bolinas”
Frontispiece and title page of "Winter Butterfiles in Bolinas"
Frontispiece and title page of “Winter Butterfiles in Bolinas”
Page 3 of "Winter Butterfiles in Bolinas"
Page 3 of “Winter Butterfiles in Bolinas”

Observations of Jay (A Dog)

Title page of "Observations of Jay"
Title page of “Observations of Jay”

Morgan Shepard published six of his own books during the Elder & Shepard partnership. One was a volume of poetry, and the other five were children’s books. The most successful of those (to judge from the extant copies available today) was Observations of Jay (A Dog) and Other Stories in 1900.

The book is furnished with delightful Art Nouveau illustrations, probably by Shepard himself.

Page 9 of “Observations of Jay”
Page 21 of “Observations of Jay”
Page 47 of “Observations of Jay”
Page 56-7 of “Observations of Jay”
Page 69 of "Observations of Jay"
Page 69 of “Observations of Jay”
Page 123 of "Observations of Jay"
Page 123 of “Observations of Jay”

Bird Notes Afield

Cover of the 1899 edition of "Bird Notes Afield"
Cover of the 1899 edition of “Bird Notes Afield”

Today Charles Keeler is known as a poet and author of The Simple Home, but in the 1890s he was best known as a naturalist. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he took at job at the California Academy of Sciences (then located south of Market Street in San Francisco). In 1893 he wrote a long monograph for the Academy called “Evolution of the Colors of North American Land Birds,” a work admired at the time but whose science is today almost completely discredited.

By the end of the decade Keeler had decided that academia was not his cup of tea, and channeled his scientific work into writing for the armchair naturalist: Bird Notes Afield was published in 1899 by Elder & Shepard. Keeler describes the joys of birdwatching in his usual florid style:

We who know California think it the most glorious of lands. The winds of freedom blow across its lofty mountains and expansive plains. There is something untamed and elemental about its wildernesses, and a tender charm about its pastoral valleys. The everlasting seas thunder upon its bold, granite headlands, the pines lift their heads almost into the snow of its mountain tops, the sequoias rear their peerless shafts along the north coast and in isolated Sierra groves, while in the great interior valleys grow the dark, venerable live-0aks; the sycamores sprawl their hoary trunks aloft, and willows and alders wave their delicate foliage beside the streams. … In this land I invite you to wander with me, seeking out the birds. If we but look for them we shall find them everywhere. If we but listen to them, the desert as well as the garden shall resound with their songs.

Bird Notes Afield 1ed title
Title page of the 1899 edition of “Bird Notes Afield”

Keeler then proceeds to describe the native birds of California from loon to lark, from gull to grosbeak:

If the junco is merry, the kinglets are the incarnation of feathered light-heartedness. No larger than your thumb, these little midgets are full of restless animation and nervious enthusiasm.


In the late afternoon the russet-backed thrushes begin their ethereal caroling, and presently the western night-hawk hies him from the privacy of his woodland retreat where his mottled brown plumage blends with the tree trunks.

First Glance at Birds cover
Cover of “A First Glance at the Birds”

Keeler organized Bird Notes Afield as a sort of calendar, with chapters such as “January in Berkeley,” “A Trip to the Farallones,” “April in Berkeley,” “Summer Birds of the Redwoods,” and “Nesting Time.” He paid particular attention to his home town of Berkeley, as a naturalist writes about what he sees and what he knows.

Bird Notes Afield was a popular title for Elder and Shepard. Originally published in October 1899, there was a second printing in May 1900. In 1899, they also published A First Glance at the Birds, which is simply the first chapter of Bird Notes Afield issued in paper wraps; this item is quite scarce.

A second edition of the entire work appeared in April 1907, with a new preface and index, issued with a dust jacket. Two cover variants have been seen, one with buckram over boards, the other with smooth brownish-green cloth over boards.

Bird Notes Afield 1ed p03
Page 3 of the 1899 first edition of “Bird Notes Afield”
Frontispiece and title page of the 1907 2nd edition of "Bird Notes Afield"
Frontispiece and title page of the 1907 2nd edition of “Bird Notes Afield”
Cover of the 1907 second edition of "Bird Notes Afield"
Cover of the 1907 second edition of “Bird Notes Afield”, with buckram over boards.
Variant cover of the second edition, with green cloth over boards.
Dust jacket of 2nd edition of “Bird Notes Afield”
Page 1 of the 1907 2nd edition of "Bird Notes Afield"
Page 1 of the 1907 2nd edition of “Bird Notes Afield”