Bay Nature magazineFall 2010


Book Review: A California Bestiary

October 1, 2010

by Rebecca Solnit and Mona Caron, Heyday, 2010, 64 pages, $12.95

You can read this book in full in about an hour. That actually turns out to be a good thing, because it means you can return to it every so often and read it again, like a favorite trail you return to in all seasons. Rebecca Solnit’s text and Mona Caron’s illustrations invite that sort of repeat attention, a settling in to the rhythms of Solnit’s peripatetic and discursive takes on a dozen California animals, including the iconic California condor (and even the absent grizzly) and the wonderfully familiar ground squirrel and western fence lizard (on whose behalf Solnit makes a plea for the name blue-belly, given that the lizard was around long before fences showed up).

Caron, a muralist known for work in San Francisco and elsewhere, here shrinks her canvas to about the size of a postcard. She compresses a lot of color and motion into those small spaces, one for each of the dozen species in the book. Some, like her elephant seals, are simply charming and accurate portrayals of wildlife. Others, like her coho salmon and Mission blue butterfly, are more pointed, capturing in a single frame the animal’s beauty and its will to survive despite the seemingly impassable barriers we throw in the way. Like Solnit’s text, these illustrations bear repeat attention, so this is a small book that amply earns its slim spot on your shelf. Or in your pocket, on that favorite trail.

About the Author

Dan was editor of Bay Nature from 2004 until 2013, when he left to work for SF-based Stamen Design. He is now executive director of GreenInfo Network, a nonprofit mapmaking organization. A onetime professional cabinetmaker, he considers himself a lifelong maker of things and teller of stories. Dan has been working at the intersection of journalism and technology since, at age 16, he began learning reporting, page layout, and database design. His enduring interest in environmental issues crystallized into a career path in 1998 when he assisted former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in a cross-disciplinary nature writing and ecology course at UC Berkeley, from which Dan received a Masters in English literature. In 1999, he became Associate Editor of Terrain, the erstwhile quarterly magazine of Berkeley's Ecology Center. In addition to editing and art-directing Bay Nature magazine, he was also Bay Nature’s chief technology strategist, fixer of broken things, and designer of databases and fancy spreadsheets. And he was even known to leave the office and actually hike outdoors.