Nature and Science on the Pacific Coast

Cover of "Nature and Science on the Pacific Coast"
Cover of “Nature and Science on the Pacific Coast”

This week’s spotlight, Nature and Science on the Pacific Coast, makes a fine bookend to last week’s A Yosemite Flora. They are the only two pure science books that Paul Elder published, but what wonderful science books they are.

One of Elder’s eleven books on or about the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, Nature and Science is a comprehensive natural history of the West Coast, primarily California, with additional articles in the field of literature, fine arts, law, and travel. The list of contributors includes botanist Harvey Monroe Hall (author of A Yosemite Flora), architect John Galen Howard, engineer Joseph LeConte, and astronomer A. O. Leuschner.

Nature Science title
Frontispiece and title page of “Nature and Science on the Pacific Coast”

The editor-in-chief was Joseph Grinnell (1877-1939), director of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at the University of California, and a famous name to any zoology student at the University, including yours truly. Grinnell was the inventor of the “Grinnell System,” a method of meticulous note-taking that is still taught to every UC Berkeley zoology student to this day. Notes must be taken in the field from direct observation, to be followed by a detailed journal entry transcribed from the field notes. Any specimens must include the precise date, location, weather, and if possible, photographs. The method even specifies the quality of notebook (durable), paper (high) and ink (very black, and waterproof). Grinnell’s goal was that the notes could be readable 200 years into the future.

Nature Science JGrinnell1904
Joseph Grinnell in 1904.
Nature Science map2
Fold out map of San Francisco, with the PPIE fairgrounds prominently marked at top middle.

Included in the book are many fold out street maps of the major coastal cities: Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, and one large coated map of the California “life zones”.

Nature Science p31
Pages 30-31 of “Nature and Science on the Pacific Coast”
Nature Science map1
Large fold out map of California “life zones,” which today we would call “biomes” or “ecosystems”

A Yosemite Flora

Cover of "Yosemite Flora"
Cover of “A Yosemite Flora”

In 1912, the field guide was still a fairly new kind of book. The first modern field guide was Birds Through an Opera-Glass, written in 1890 by Florence August Merriam (1863-1948). The first botanical field guide in the United States was the 1893 How to Know the Wildflowers, by Mrs. William Starr Dana (Frances Theodora Parsons, 1861-1952). The public was clearly eager for these new field guides, as Parsons’s first printing sold out in five days, and she published several subsequent editions.

Harvey and Carlotta Hall’s 1912 field guide A Yosemite Flora is a work of the highest academic quality. Paul Elder published several “armchair nature” books, notably Bird Notes Afield by Charles Keeler, but this is the botany book that Keeler might well have carried in his back pocket while traipsing through the Sierras. It is profusely illustrated with 170 drawings and eleven plates (though due to a production error many copies were issued without plates 2-11, and contain an errata slip to that effect).

Frontispiece and title page to "A Yosemite Flora"
Frontispiece and title page to “A Yosemite Flora”

Harvey Monroe Hall (1874-1932) was born in Illinois but grew up in Riverside, California. He received his Ph.D. in botany in 1906 from the University of California, Berkeley, writing a thesis entitled The Compositae of Southern California. He remained on the UC faculty until 1919, when he joined the Carnegie Institute. There he began an exploration of experimental methods of plant taxonomy. In 1929 he came Acting Professor of Botany at Stanford University.

Hall was a painstaking investigator, and his work became the basis for a fresh approach to organic evolution. He had spent 1928 in Europe studying the national parks there, and his returned an enthusiastic proponent of a new model of ecological management, the wildlife preserve.

Page 46-47 of "A Yosemite Flora"
Page 46-47 of “A Yosemite Flora”

In 1910 Hall married Carlotta Case (1880-1949),  a 1905 graduate of the University of California and a collector of western ferns. They had one daughter, Martha Hall Niccolls (1913-1991).

Shortly after Hall’s death, the Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area was established within Inyo National Forest, just north of Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. It was one of the first RNAs to be created.

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”

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”