The California Field Atlas
The California Field Atlas by Obi Kaufman is a 552 page fully illustrated study of the natural landscape and ecology of California. It reads like a natural history text written by a poet. In his own words, “I want to hold the whole of California in my hand, like a diamond ring or a spinning top; I want to coax this single piece of the universe into opening up it’s secrets. By writing this book I seek to participate in the wild reimagining of this place, past the scars inflicted by the past 200 years, to reveal a story about what has always been here, and what will remain long after our human residency is through... I present a new portfolio of invented geography that balances ecology and aesthetics as a driving and orienting force.”
Kaufman has painted watercolor maps of the state according to it’s mountain ranges, watersheds, forests, weather patterns, deserts, wildlife, parks and protected lands, counties, and what he describes as a “rewilded” future, how water and forest could reclaim that landscape without human interference.
I am excited to spend future years with this book, digesting the content a bit at a time. For example this rumination about the origin of what makes complex ecosystems work, “If the river informs the forest with the water it needs, which informs the climate with the carbon store it needs, which informs the river with the precipitation which it needs, where does the process begin?”
Another passage that gave me pause is his observation that there are no fully wild rivers left in the state, “the ecological stranglehold that dams represent on wild rivers cannot be overstated…we have invested too much in an outdated, unethical model of water storage, energy production, and flood prevention. The toll dams take on the natural world is unsustainable and will begin to adversely affect human ecology as agriculture begins to suffer, wildlife continues to disappear, and societal tensions rise.”
It’s amazing to me, having lived my whole life in California, to see how little I have experienced. Reading the lists of names: lakes, rivers, dams, and parks, I am inspired to explore further, to travel more of this beautiful land, and bring this Field Guide with me, enjoying it’s many delights among the natural wonders it reveres.