I could not be more proud of our new book. It is, in reality, a project 10-years in the making. I first started cooking up the idea when I finished Conifer Country in 2012 based on the fact that a natural history had never been written for the Klamath Mountains. Around 2015, during a winter gathering, I proposed an outline to a group of friends and asked who wanted to help write the book with me. Justin Garwood raised his hand and the rest is now history!
Why Natural History?
Writing a natural history happens with definable landscapes. For it to be comprehensive, regional boundaries defined by geology, ecology, and climatic patterns—or realistically all three—create a space wherein a natural history emerges. The Sierra Nevada’s granitic boundaries have produced numerous natural histories. Other regions of the West that have their own natural histories include Daniel Matthew’s Natural History of the Pacific Northwest Mountains that weaves climate and ecology. A new tome, Mountains of Nevada, by David Charlet, uses political boundaries to define an entire state’s flora by way of 300+ mountain ranges. Lawrence R. Walker and Frederick H. Landau use climate to tell A Natural History of the Mojave Desert. The list goes on. These books are exciting because natural history is foundational in building and maintaining the human relationship with nature. The written relationship of natural history in the western world started with Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humboldt. Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Annie Dillard, Peter Matthiessen, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and others have continued these traditions—today, I believe we are experiencing a natural history renaissance.
Our Natural History
With the help of 34 co-authors we are now better connected to the natural history of the Klamath Mountains. Climate, soils, fire, and geology connect all living things across space and time. From those connections to the land, interpreted by the First People in the beginning and built upon by western scientists who followed, the deep knowledge for this place is helping to reinvigorate relationships to the land and with each other. In this bond, we all have something to offer—and even more to the mountains and rivers and forests. We will continue to share our current knowledge and better understand what those before us have done and thought. Through these connections, we can only hope that some of our old approaches and understandings fade away and a better path for place-based connection and stewardship continue to grow.
The Natural History Institute defines natural history as the “…practice of intentional, focused attentiveness and receptivity to the more-than-human world, guided by honesty and accuracy.” Justin and I present our honest and accurate work for the Klamath Mountains.
The first comprehensive regional natural history is here!
Edited by Michael Kauffmann & Justin Garwood with 34 contributing authors, all experts in their fields.
California’s deserts have always fascinated me. In the late 1990s and early 2000s I visited many areas of the Sonoran, Mojave, and Great Basin in California while teaching in Southern California. Since moving north, I have often dreamed of returning. In 2020 Backcountry Press was approached by Dr. Philip Rundel from UCLA about doing a book on California Desert Plants. This was an exciting prospect and an easy decision to make. After over a year of work (he has been working on the idea on and off for 15 years) we are excited to announce that the book is done.
For me, this book is amazing because it tells the story of one of the harshest environments on Earth. There are three distinct desert areas in California—the northwestern portion of the larger Sonoran Desert, the Mojave Desert which extends beyond the state, and the western margin of the Great Basin. A key feature of the California deserts is the dominance of infrequent rainfall in the cool winter months and general absence of rainfall and associated drought in the summer months when warm temperatures are otherwise favorable for growth. The combination of these harsh conditions nurture amazing plants with a complicated variety of adaptations.
I am excited to announce we are approaching the publication of a book 5 years in the making. As the co-editor and author of several of the chapters I am more excited for this book than any other I have written or published. To launch the approach to publication, we are offering a winter webinar series where chapter authors will present some of the highlights from their work.
Green plants are considered autotrophs because they photosynthesize—making sugar from water and carbon dioxide. The world of heterotrophic plants is complicated but all have moved away from total energy production from photosynthesis toward obtaining organic carbon either directly from other living beings or through a parasitic relationship with a fungus. Heterotrophic plants include directly parasitic and mycotrophic forms. The conifer forests of the western United States nurture an exceptional diversity of heterotrophic plants.
Select Forest Pathogens of California’s Klamath Mountains
Forest Pathogens often go unnoticed while exploring, but offer an exceptional window into the intricacies of forest ecology when better understood. I created the free document linked below in 2011 while in Grad School at Humboldt State. Forest Pathology was one of the more interesting classes I took while turning Conifer Country into my thesis for a Master’s Degree in Biology. Most of the information for this document was taken from Terry Henkel’s lecture notes as well as from internet and book sources–all cited within the document. I was recently reminded of this creation because of the October weather that has dropped unprecedented amounts of rain and nurtured fungal growth across Northwest California.
I have used various approaches which always involve careful map study, perusing the pages of hiking guides, and most importantly for me—studying field guides. As I get older, choosing a hiking destination is becoming more critical, with so much to see and even more to learn.
Over time, I have gone about choosing a hike based more as a destination for discovery before any other factor. I think I first caught the hiking-for-natural-discovery bug while selecting a backpacking route exclusively to see condors in the Sespe Wilderness of southern California. When I moved to Humboldt in 2002, I graduated from bird destinations to plant exploring as I began searching out rare and unusual conifer species in our local mountains. This regular wilderness sideline blossomed into a Master’s Degree from Humboldt State University when I published my first book Conifer Country: A natural history and hiking guide to the conifers of northwest California in 2012. For 10 years I hiked to find and understand trees. These trees, and the places they grow, helped me develop a deeper passion for place and an understanding of the unique natural history of northwest California.
One of the most interesting geologic stories in western North America is told by the ultramafic rocks that were formed deep in the ocean floor. As the Pacific Plate collided and dove beneath (subduction) the North American Plate, the bottom layers from deep oceanic mantle were scraped (obduction) onto the North American Plate. These depositions are referred to as ophiolites and the Klamath Mountains present some of the most extensive examples on Earth.
I was recently asked by KHSU, here in Humboldt County, to write a two minute script for their Sound Ecology series. I chose to write about the conifers of the Klamath Mountains. I hope you enjoy this piece and are planning your next adventure into this botanical wonderland.
Here are the activities I will be a part of in the coming months, please join me!
My first adventure in the Klamath Mountains was in February 2003, several weeks after moving to Humboldt County. Here is an excerpt from the introduction of Conifer Countryabout that trip:
After poring over maps, studying the ridges, passes, and creeks, I filled my backpack with winter gear, food, and a copy of David Rains Wallace’s The Klamath Knot. The adventure was on….The next four days found me spending time staying warm, staying dry, differentiating between the conifers, and reading and re-reading The Klamath Knot. The Knot is a “Klamath cult classic” that weaves the myth of giants with the mysterious quality of ancient forest evolution—surely this was the perfect companion for my first trip in the Siskiyous.
I fell in love with the mountains that fateful February week, deep in the Siskiyous. I read and re-read The Klamath Knot as the rains poured down on me, the nearby creeks swelled, and the mountain passes accumulated snow. I gained a deeper respect and understanding for this wild place too—because of David’s mountain tales that wove natural history and evolution into a place-based book.
Today, it is with great fortune and excitement that I announce to my noble readers that my publishing company, Backcountry Press, is releasing a book by David Rains Wallace. Articulate Earth is a collection of 23 essays written over 30 years of Wallace’s career. The essays explore our relationship with nature—particularly that of the West—in its literary, scientific, and political dimensions. Please support independent publishing by picking up this book from our website or visiting your local independent bookstore—and then referring this book to friends.