Friday, June 10, 2005

The Hole Truth: A Field Guide to Desert Holes by Pinau Merlin


We walk through the world blind and ignorant, oblivious to the burgeoning life all around us—unless, of course, we take our walks with a Field Guide. A Field Guide to Western Birds sits next to my bay window, because I want to know what that dickey-bird out there is named. My spouse says, "If it's blue, it's a Stellars Jay, if it's brown, it's a towhee." But I want the expert to tell me, yes, that's a towhee.

I've purchased more than my share of "roadside geology" books, too. These guides purport to tell the casual tourist, see there, that streak of yellow on the hillside is Spanish quartz. Of course, the tourist is looking in the wrong direction, so he confidently informs his family that the large yellow letters painted on the rocks to celebrate the local high-school graduation are "made of Spanish quartz."

Rodent burrows in the desert.
   Desert rodent burrows, photo courtesy DTNA Mohave

These field guides can just move over on the shelf, now, and make room for a new king. A Field Guide to Desert Holes by Pinau Merlin shows you how to spot the living quarters, larders and shady retreats of desert animals. Let's face it—in the daytime, when most of us go for a walk in the desert, these holes are the only evidence of the abundant desert life.

Like many field guides, this book uses description as the primary mode to convey the shape, size and usual location for these holes. I would have loved to see a set of color plates to illustrate holes, such as I have in my Petersen's Field Guide to Rocks and Minerals. Too often, I simply couldn't visualize the hole shape Merlin was describing. (There are some sketches, but far too few.)

The most impressive thing about the guide is the sheer number of holes Merlin describes. Even if you read it, as I did, in the air-conditioned comfort of a book store, you will get the sense of life hidden all around you in a daytime desert. I even got excited to retroactively identify (from a sketch) the burrow of an spider seen in Death Valley two years ago.

Desert walkers and armchair wanderers alike will find items of interest in this guide. At 132 pages, it's not too heavy to bring along.

Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.


Post a Comment

<< Home