By Eilene Zimmerman
Seasonal changes are subtle in San Diego, but they still exist, and as spring rolls by we feel the pull again of The Great Outdoors—long weekends hiking, strolls along the beach, maybe even a picnic in the woods. With the help of several recently published books, those leisurely spring and summer days can also be enlightening.
California’s Wild Gardens: A Living Legacy (California Native Plant Society, $29.95) is essentially a field guide to California’s indigenous plants, with 500 lush photographs of the state’s wide variety of flowers, flowering plants and trees. Edited by Phyllis M. Faber, the book is divided into 10 ecological regions, areas where local environmental factors have created an ensemble of rare or endemic plants. Photos are supplemented with essays discussing plant life, overall biological conditions, environmental threats and conservation efforts, written in an informative—yet very readable—style.
Of particular interest to San Diegans is the “South Coast and the Peninsular Ranges” section, which includes—among many points of botanical significance—Point Loma’s chaparral, the Torrey pines of Del Mar and the rare Gander’s butterweed of McGinty Mountain in southwestern San Diego County.
While you’re out enjoying the plant life, you might as well grab a pair of binoculars and check out the birds too. Bring along Birds of San Diego by Chris C. Fisher and Herbert Clarke (Lone Pine Publishing, $9.95) for a colorfully illustrated, easy-to-use guide to 125 common bird species throughout the county.
The book’s best feature is its detailed illustrations, with a full page devoted to each particular species, giving the reader information about the bird’s habitat, character and time of year it can be seen. The natural features of the habitat are described in lively prose that doesn’t bog down in technical jargon. And the authors have thoughtfully included how-to instructions for the novice birdwatcher.
If you tire of the flowers and birds, head south to the caves of Baja California to view some of the ancient cave paintings unearthed by La Jolla historian and writer Harry W. Crosby. His The Cave Paintings of Baja California (Sunbelt Publications, $39.95) documents his discovery of the Great Murals, one of the most significant primitive rock-art finds in the world. Crosby found his first prehistoric painting in 1967, on the underside of a 50-foot boulder. Since then he’s been crisscrossing the mountains of central Baja to find more, and this account of his travels among caves and rock shelters is a compelling read.
Although the prose is sometimes overly descriptive, Crosby uses his knack as a storyteller and his knowledge as a researcher to tell the tale of his discoveries—larger-than-life paintings of ancient men and animals. Even if you only visit these sites from your armchair, large, full-color photographs and illustrations take you along with Crosby, right to the heart of the Sierras.
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Also Out from Local Authors
Canyon Ranch Cooking (HarperCollins Publishers, $40): Jeanne Jones’ syndicated food column, Cook It Light, reaches more than 30 million readers. She also helped develop the original menu for the Canyon Ranch spas. In her latest collection of healthful recipes, the La Jolla author and San Diego Magazine contributing writer incorporates the tricks used by top spa chefs to keep fat-free dishes tasting flavorful.
The Top-Secret Journal of Fiona Claire Jardin (Harcourt Brace, $13): In this, her first novel, Pacific Beach author Robin Cruise has created the diary of 10-year-old Fiona, whose life has been turned upside down by her parents’ divorce. We come to know this young girl through her poignant, funny entries, though at times they seem too mature for a 10--going-on-11-year-old. Still, Cruise has done a good job of communicating Fiona’s troubled story—in the little girl’s own words.
Foul Shot (Borsalino Books, $21.95): Richard O’Connor’s real-life basketball career took him from Duke University to San Diego and eventually landed him consulting jobs with the Dallas Mavericks, Seattle Supersonics and Detroit Pistons. His fictional tale of corruption and foul play in the college ranks is a fast-paced read that rings all too true in today’s world of bottom-line sports programs.