Reviews-The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada

These published reviews give you an insight into the impact of The Laws Guide to The Sierra Nevada. You can purchase this book from my store.

Near Perfection, at Seventeen-and-a-Half Ounces by Ray Rippel 5/7/13 JMTBook

One doesn’t often brush up against near perfection. My encounters have been limited to the feel of the chef’s knife I bought in Heidelberg a dozen years ago, the experience of a Beethoven symphony magnificently conducted, the spectacle of standing at Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park during a clearing storm… …and a book about the mountains I love.

The book is called “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.” It was written and illustrated by the aptly named John Muir Laws.

Even the cover is both art and function. Note the illustrative icons along the right side that will guide you quickly to the appropriate section of the book. From there it is a simple process to get to the pages that will help you with identification.

Perfection? How can a little book achieve near perfection? It does so through elegance, usability, beauty, and its encyclopedic scope. Like the chef’s knife I mention up above, it’s both a work of art and exactly the right tool for the job.

The book can’t really be described as small (it runs 8.75 inches by 4.5 inches by .8 inch, and weighs 17.5 ounces), but it makes good use of every page. There is more information per square inch in this volume than in any field guide I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

Flip through the pages and the first thing you’ll notice are the illustrations–more than 2,700 of them. Each was hand sketched and painted by Mr. Laws, himself. I’ll confess to treating the book like a museum catalog or a fine art, coffee table book. I’ll open it and admire the gentle curve introduced to the stem of the fairy lantern (page 73), the way the great basin fritillary appears to be ready to leap off the page (page 169), or the, “Hey, what are YOU looking at!” scowl on the face of the snowshoe hare (page 311).

Each illustration is surrounded by small nuggets of text that help you to identify what you’ve found, and occasionally you’ll get even more. For example, you’ll learn that the viper heat-sensing pits on a northern pacific rattlesnake can detect temperature changes as small as 0.003 degrees centigrade. (Or, in other words, you’re unlikely to sneak past one that is coiled next to the trail.)

Taking It Outdoors

If you were to buy the book for the sole purpose of leafing through it in search of such delights, it would be money well spent. But the real genius of its design is revealed when you take it outdoors.

Open the cover and you’ll find a colorful, user-friendly table of contents, which, when combined with the colors that bleed to the fore-edge, make navigating to the proper section (there are nine) quick and easy.

The first eight sections cover fungi & lichens; trees &  shrubs, vines & ferns; wildflowers; spiders, insects & other small animals (think crayfish or snails); fish; amphibians & reptiles; birds; and mammals.

The ninth is a real gem-within-a-gem. It contains illustrations and text that will help you identify animals by their tracks and scat, galls (small outgrowths on plants where insects lay eggs), four star charts (one for each season), and even a couple of pages on how to predict weather in the Sierra Nevada.

The user-friendly organization continues after you’ve moved directly to the appropriate section. Assume, for a moment, you are trying to identify a particular wildflower you have found along the trail. It has four petals and is orange in color. On the first two pages of the wildflower section you quickly zero in on the section for four-petal flowers. A split second later you see that the orange ones are described on page 113. It’s taken you all of about three seconds to find exactly the right illustrations, in a book of nearly 400 pages, to identify your flower.

Taking this book on your John Muir Trail hike will certainly not appeal to everyone. Those of you with a ten-pound base weight, cooking over a stove made from a Diet Coke can, and carrying Cuban-carbon-titanium-anti-gravity whatchamacallits are no doubt staggered that I would even suggest it, but suggest it I will.

I’m stunned and a bit shamed by my own ignorance of the places I’ve hiked though. Carrying this seventeen-and-a-half ounce package of near perfection, and some exploration along the trail, will be my first step in correcting that problem.

Good hiking, Ray


Tehachapi News The Best Field Guide Yet For The Tehachapi Area By Jon Eric Hammond 4/14/2010

I’m frequently asked to direct people to a good field guide about the plants and animals of the Tehachapi area. One doesn’t exist yet, but until a book written specifically about the Tehachapi area is published, I highly recommend John Muir Law’s wonderful work the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. This comprehensive guide covers an amazing range of flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada, from butterflies and other insects to reptiles, birds, mammals, wildflowers, trees, shrubs and more. The book is filled with more than 2,700 accurate watercolor paintings by the talented artist Laws. Jack is no relation to the earlier John Muir, but his remarkable book has furthered understanding and appreciation of the Sierra that the original John Muir worked so diligently to preserve. The Tehachapi Mountains don’t share all of the same plant and animal species as the Sierra Nevada, of course, since we also have Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley species, as well as some endemic to the Tehachapis, but probably 80 percent of the flora and fauna in the Laws Field Guide may be found in our area. Open this field guide to almost any page and its realistic illustrations will draw you in and engage you. Laws has worked as an environmental educator for more than 25 years and has degrees in wildlife biology, conservation and resource studies, as well as certification in scientific illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Laws has an eye for pointing out useful tips for identifying and distinguishing similar but different species of all kinds from mushrooms to bumble bees, dragonflies to raptors. One problem common to most comprehensive field guides is that because they cover such a large region, like “Birds of the West,” for example, or “Desert Wildflowers,”they will often feature species not actually found in your area. As a result, people will spend time turning pages to find an unfamiliar species they saw near their house, triumphantly locate a likely candidate in a field guide, and then discover that the species in question isn’t even known in their home state. You’re much more likely to find the right Tehachapi species in the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada than in any other field guide that is in print. If a Tehachapi resident was limited to owning only one field guide, this would be the one that you should have. Author to present free program at BeeKay Theater Happily, Jack Laws will be in Tehachapi to give a free program at the historic BeeKay Theater on Green Street on Monday, April 26 at 7 p.m. for the Tehachapi Mountains Birding Club. He will also have copies of his epic book available and will sign autographs after the program. To my knowledge, no field guide author has ever visited Tehachapi to present a program, let alone the creator of a work as useful and relevant to our area as this engaging book. If you are interested in the natural world of the Tehachapi area, this is an opportunity you will not want to miss. Have a good week.

Washington Post 1/13/08 (also syndicated in the Los Angles Times, The Press Democrat, the Reno Journal Gazette, The Modesto Bee, and The Vail Trail and the University of California College of Natural Resources). In the Sierra Nevada, A Modern Audubon Stalks Skinks & Bugs, by William Booth

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — He took his first hike into the Sierra Nevada, the landscape of his obsession, while still in the womb. His parents named him John Muir Laws. He once spent a week searching for a single perfect orchid to paint. He says, “I am constantly amazed by things.” Such as? “The diversity of chipmunks.” He is not joking. He cares about newts. If asked, he does an excellent imitation of a startled vole. He has opinions about beetles. This fall, he published “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.” It is 366 pages long and contains 2,800 illustrations, each painted by Laws. The new field guide, already praised by outdoor connoisseurs as a naturalist’s bible, begins with “Small Fungi Growing on Wood” (specifically, Calocera cornea, the staghorn jelly fungus) and ends with stars (the night sky at winter solstice, Dec. 22). It is small enough to slip into your pocket but includes 1,700 species of flowers, trees, bugs, frogs, snails, skinks, birds, fish, rodents. It took him six years. The world needs more of this — this kind of sustained, informed, deep gee-whizdom. Not too long ago, Laws is scrambling on a footpath near the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. Suddenly he stoops. “Well, would you look here,” he says. ” A nice one.” He holds up a fat ashy dried cigar, the kind a dictator might smoke, and admires a perfectly formed black bear scat. Flip to Page 326 and there it is, a painting of the plop. There’s two pages devoted to “Animal Evidence” in his field guide. Did you know that the indentations and depressions in deer droppings are called, by the professionals, “dimples” and “pimples”? Now you do. The release of a major new field guide, especially for an ecosystem as iconic and popular as the Sierras, is something of an event for people who may care about such things, meaning people who want to know what they’re looking at, the showy penstemon or the gay penstemon? Because there is a difference (hairless vs. hairy stems, apparently; see Page 150). The Sacramento Bee praises the Laws guide as “a wonderful companion to anyone who communes with nature on hikes, on the water, while bird-watching or even through the windshield for those less able to get out into the hills.” The San Francisco Chronicle called it “stunning.” Pete DeVine, the education coordinator for the Yosemite Association, says, “there is genius behind this book.” There is also something sweet and obsessive, and marvelously 19th-century about the whole enterprise, the idea of a lone amateur, now 41 years old (living in a rented $600 apartment in San Francisco), spending season after season tramping around the mountains, painting mushrooms and moles. “The pages and pages of bugs, flies, beetles, and damned if I’m going to ever tell one from another, but isn’t it wondrous that they’re out there? Isn’t that marvelous?” says Malcolm Margolin, founder of Heyday Books in Berkeley, the not-for-profit publisher of the field guide. “I’m a beauty junkie. And this book was done by somebody who is stunned by the beauty of the world.” The Appalachians? The Rockies? No disrespect, but the Sierra Nevada is the prettiest postcard in America. It is just a sublime landscape, the granite spire above alpine meadow against the bluest sky. The Sierras are Byron meets Monet meets Maxfield Parrish. They’re over the top. Even in the black and white of an Ansel Adams print, the Sierras work. About 400 miles from bottom to top, the range includes nine national forests, four national parks (Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen) and the highest point in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney, 14,505 feet). It is the setting for the original John Muir rhapsodies of natural history writing and a birthplace of the modern American conservation movement — including the Sierra Club. Laws is walking on the trail. “Whitebark pine,” he points (Page 33). “Check this out.” He is on his knees rustling around in the duff beneath a stunted tree. “See? Look at all the pine cones.” We are looking: many cones. But are we really seeing? “Not a single one intact,” says Laws. And, aha, he is correct: All the cones appear . . . aggressively tweezered. Now Laws begins screeching. ” Kaa-a! Kaa-a!” “A rowdy call, a raucous call. I love that description, don’t you? Rowdy?” He is talking about the call of the Clark’s nutcracker (Page 292), the bird that plucks and then buries these pine nuts for the winter. (A single nutcracker can stash as many as 98,000 nuts in a season.) Laws is explaining that these particular nutcrackers carry the seeds underneath their tongue in a special cavity called the gular pouch, like a pelican. The huh pouch? How do spell that? Laws thinks that is funny. Why? “Don’t ask a dyslexic how to spell,” he says. So now we know. When Laws autographs a copy of his field guide, he’ll often mistake a J for L, a D for B. It turns out Laws has never read a book cover to cover. “Not even a novel,” he says. Words are a jumble to him. To get through school, he listened to books on tape and textbooks recorded for the blind. “Statistics were hell,” he says. (Though it did not stop him from getting his undergraduate degree at Berkeley and his master’s in wildlife biology from the University of Montana; he earns his living teaching classes on natural history, scientific illustration and field sketching.) “He is an absolutely wonderful misspeller,” says his father, Robert Laws, a retired San Francisco attorney. “I think his dyslexia is the key.” Meaning a key to his book. “Maybe that’s what makes me who I am,” Laws says. “If I had the option, I don’t think I would cure it.” Because maybe his dyslexia helps him see more, better, or differently. Most field guides are organized, essentially, around the expert’s division of life forms into their taxonomic, evolutionary groups — all gulls with gulls, all hawks with hawks, for example, which requires the searcher to know, a little bit, where to look in the book. But Laws has devised a clever way to organize his field guide by color. You see a bird. You see a greenish bird. You go to the color key and flip to “Green Birds,” and the guide lists birds whose dominant, most eye-catching color is green — combining Anna’s hummingbirds, green-tailed towhees and Lewis’s woodpecker on the same page. It is a fast, intuitive, accessible way to do snappy identifications in the field. Among users and creators of field guides, there is long debate: photos or drawings? Since the backpacking boom began, hikers in the California mountains have carried Tracy I. Storer’s very fine 1963 “Sierra Nevada Natural History,” which contains photographs — and a lot of text. Laws is more the minimalist with words, but a maximalist with paint. The most well-regarded guides today, such as David Sibley’s bird books, are almost always illustrated. Why? Roger Tory Peterson in his classic guides answers the question: “A photograph is a record of a fleeting instant; a drawing is a composite of the artist’s experience.” A drawing allows the naturalist to capture the “gestalt” of the creature, stressing the totality of a species, editing out distraction, highlighting the core. Laws painted every wildflower in his book from sketches and paintings in the field. The same with most of the birds, except the great horned owl, which he kept missing. “We have this idea that all robins, for example, look the same,” says Laws. “But they don’t. Any more than all collies look alike or all humans. It’s because we’re not looking hard enough.” For the fungi, he went on collecting trips with mycologists, who piled fresh specimens onto a table. He sought out authorities on animal tracks, aquatic insects, butterflies, snakes. Researching, Laws would spend weeks alone in the mountains. How many miles did he hike? “That’s hard to answer,” he says. In the beginning, it would take him several days just to cross a single meadow, because he would stop and sketch each new flower. “But towards the end of the project, I’d hike for hours just to find one new thing.” There are many creatures he never drew in the wild. He never saw, for example, a spotted skunk. He painted one from a roadkill. “I haven’t seen all the species of chipmunks nor all the bats,” he says. He painted them from dead specimens kept in museum collections. He never saw a wolverine, either. They are believed to be extirpated in the Sierra Nevada (the last one spotted in 1937), though he includes one in his book with a note to report a sighting to the California Fish and Game Department. When he was a boy, hiking on the John Muir Trail, he dreamed of creating the perfect field guide, not a guide made by experts but a book by an enthusiast. “My criteria for inclusion in the book: Either it’s so common you’ll trip over it all the time. Or not so common — maybe it’s just some subtle little thing, but they are so stunning or their story is so great, I had to include it,” he says. Why? “Because the more people fall in love with the diversity of life, the more people will fight to protect it,” Laws says. Do you know, he asks, the story of the pika, which is actually a hamster-size rabbit with round ears, whose nitrogen-rich urine is like some kind of Miracle-Gro for orange lichen (Page 313)? The pika runs around on the rocks above the timberline, collecting grass and flowers and drying the hay in the sun. The poor cold-loving pika may go extinct, because it lives at the tops of mountains, and as the temperature warms, it has no higher elevation to go to. So it’s like a polar bear in a melting world, except it’s a tiny rabbit that cooks? Exactly, says John Muir Laws. “The point really is not to identify a creature or a plant and move on. The point is to learn the story.”

Raised Hackles, Golden West Women Flyfishers If you get just one field guide, this is the one: The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, 6/01/08 By Chris Okon

So you’re sitting on the Yuba river bank tying on a midge to replace the one captured by the brush in your last back cast.  And you spot an unusual insect you can’t identify.  Out of the corner of your eye you see an orange and black bird rummaging in a bush with red berries under some sort of evergreen tree.  And you know there are trout…but what kind? You think to yourself, wouldn’t it be nice to know what these living things are…but who has the time? I have just the book for you:  The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, written and illustrated by John Muir Laws (not related, except perhaps in spirit, to “the” John Muir). An avid naturalist, educator and artist with degrees in wildlife biology, conservation and resource studies from various universities, Laws has created the type of field guide he himself wished he had while wandering his favorite terrain, the Sierra Nevada. This lightweight and compact book can go anywhere, with 366 pages and over 2700 full-color illustrations, all drawn by Laws, of trees, wildflowers, ferns, fungi, lichens, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, insects, and fish presented in a very intuitive and usable way.  You don’t have to know taxonomy or Latin to find what you’re looking for!  To make sure people could use his book, Laws spent a lot of time testing it with people of all skill levels in the field. And, even though the book covers Sierra Nevada wildlife, it’s useful for identifying species in all of Northern California.  In other words, it’s a great and delightful investment for anyone who loves the outdoors. Here’s a sample illustration Mr. Laws was kind enough to send for our newsletter: (illustration omited) Sure, it’s a trout, but if you go to the Trout section in the guidebook you’ll see all species of Sierra trout pictured side-by-side and annotated with field marks, making it real easy even for newbies to identify this beauty as a Coastal Rainbow (Onchorhynchus mykiss irideus). The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada is available at,, and other places you can find with Google.  For more information, visit

San Francisco Chronicle, A color-coded usable field guide was a six-year labor of love for John Muir Laws, 4/25/08, By Sam Whiting

John Muir Laws is neither named for nor related to his namesake. But he acted as if he were and spent six summers in the mountains compiling and illustrating the Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Laws, 41, laid out and scanned the book in his studio apartment behind a garage on the western face of Mount Sutro. “Muir is the name of my great-grandmother on my dad’s side. The John is from a grandfather on my mom’s side. It had nothing to do with John Muir. But if your name is John Muir, every birthday people give you John Muir books. So I grew up reading his stories and thinking about his adventures. I figured one way or another this John Muir fellow must be a relative of mine. I remember my surprise when I figured out he wasn’t. I had worked in the education department of the California Academy of Sciences for many years and became their senior science educator and manager of field studies. When summer would come, I’d pick up my backpack and a pile of paper, a little bit of food and head up into the Sierra Nevada and start hiking. Every wildflower or plant that I came to I would sit down, identify it and make a careful painting of it. I developed a small portable studio. At the start, I would not get very far. I would paint all day and only make it halfway through a meadow. I did this for six summers. When the snows would come, I would return to San Francisco and use the specimens at the California Academy of Sciences to detail drawings of the insects, the mammals, the birds. The book contains more than 2,700 different original watercolor illustrations. I saw a lot of bears, some with cubs. They let me sit on a stump and paint them while they went about their business. We don’t have any brown bears in the Sierra Nevada, but we do have black bears that are brown, which confuses a lot of people. I do not fish. I cannot even bring myself to pick a flower. To do my fish illustrations, I made original sketches from specimens at the California Academy of Sciences. And I would often ask if I could look in the creel of anglers that I met, and they would let me make sketches of fish they had caught. I saw some spectacular golden trout. Most field guides are organized phylogenetically. That means the order of evolution. Most of us don’t walk up to a bird and say, ‘That looks like a very primitive bird.’ We say, ‘Oh, there’s a little blue bird.’ So if your book were organized the way people intuitively see things, that’s going to help people get quickly to the identification. On the side of my book I have icons for fungi, plants, wildflowers, insects, birds, mammals. Thumb tabs along the edges of the pages are colored so I can bend the binding back and go directly to the color of my bird. Usually you write a book and then it comes out and then you figure out what doesn’t work. I printed draft copies of my field guide as I was working on it and sent those out into the field with professional biologists and Boy Scouts. The book radically changed because of the feedback that I got. I’m now going to start to work on a field guide about the San Francisco Bay Area. I want to make a tool that helps get people excited about what they see in their backyard.” The Lightbulb: When I was in high school, my classmates and I started hiking the John Muir Trail. I began to fantasize about what my dream field guide would look like. It had to be organized the way that I see the world – in shapes and colors. I came around a corner on the trail and there was this medium-sized gray hawk holding a squirrel in its talons. We stared at each other for half a minute and I was thinking ‘Who is this bird? Who is the animal in its talons?’

The Sierra Club The Green Life 3/08 By Pamela Biery THE LAWS FIELD GUIDE TO THE SIERRA NEVADA a book by John Muir Laws.

If you have room for only one Sierra Nevada guidebook in your pack, make it this little gem. A beautiful resource for better understanding the region, it includes entries on insects, tracks, stars, scat, and mushrooms as well as the usual plants, birds, and animals. Dense with illustration, it’s the perfect all-ages introduction to field guides. Well-researched natural-history notes pull the reader more deeply into the story of these iconic mountains.

The Piedmont Post Naturalist, Scientific Illustrator visits Havens, 1/30/08, By Terry Smith

John Muir Laws, a local naturalist and scientific illustrator paid a visit to Havens School last Friday.   Fourth grade students were enthralled by his detailed and somewhat gruesome tales of the lives of bugs, complete with insect voices and gestures.  His professed goal was to bring as many students as possible into the ‘Bugs are Cool’ school of thought, and from the enthusiastic response, it was clear that he succeeded in encouraging many budding entomologists.   With the fifth graders, Laws shared his experiences as the illustrator and author of “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” which he published this fall.   Having recently completed the 2,800 illustrations in the book, he shared some of his tips and tricks for drawing plants, birds and animals.   First he encouraged students to page through the many field journals in which he’d sketched the vivid details of his travels from Pt. Reyes to the Galapagos Islands.  Students then had the opportunity to try their hands at drawing birds under his expert guidance.  After his presentations, students crowded around, seeking suggestions on ways to improve their drawings.  Although he continued to provide tips, his overall advice was very simple, “The more you draw, the better your drawings will be, so just keep drawing”.

Half Moon Bay Review 1/31/08 Make a vicarious visit to the mountains, By Stacy Trevenon

Following a program last week that focused on the beaches of the Coastside, the Half Moon Bay Library presents a program this week that visits the high Sierras. Artist and author John Muir Laws – named after the famous 19th-century conservationist – will visit the library this Friday evening to take listeners “exploring the Sierra Nevada as a naturalist and an artist.” Beginning at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, he will discuss his book “The Laws Guide to the Sierra Nevada” (Heyday Books, 2007) and his experiences researching, writing and illustrating it. With more than 25 years’ experience working as an environmental educator in California, Wyoming and Alaska, Laws realistically captures in his illustrations the essence of the animals he is depicting. His book is an illustrated field guide to more than 1700 species of plants and animals brought alive in 2,710 original watercolor paintings. The book is comprehensive and easy to use, and allows readers from botanists to common nature lovers to identify insects that come to their flowers, birders to identify the birds perching on their trees and the trees as well, and hikers to name the stars over their heads at night. In his lecture, Laws will bring along some original illustrations he painted in the field, and will touch on the history of the Sierra Nevada and the process of creating a field guide. This book is not his first; in 2004 he published “Sierra Books: Hiker’s Guide.” Laws is also a regular contributor to Bay Nature magazine with his “Naturalist’s Notebook” column. Currently he is working on creating a school curriculum to tie his field guide to state education standards, and to secure funding to donate sets of field guides to Sierra Nevada-area elementary and high schools and to teach field sketching and natural history classes throughout the state. He holds degrees in conservation and resource studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and in wildlife biology from the University of Montana, Missoula. He also holds certification in scientific illustration from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is a research associate with the California Academy of Sciences. His appearance Friday at the Half Moon Bay Library is free. The library is located at 620 Correas St. in Half Moon Bay, and can be reached at 726-2316.

NRDC Switchboard 1/14/08, Dyslexics of the World Untie! By Andrew Wetzler

On Sunday, the Washington Post published a fascinating article about John Muir Laws, the author and illustrator of a new field guide to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The book itself has gotten rave reviews and the illustrations, one of which is reproduced here, are certainly beautiful. The reason I wanted to write about Laws’ book, however, is that the Washington Post article reveals that Laws is not only an impressive naturalist but dyslexic to boot. I’m always interested to read articles about dyslexia or how dyslexics have coped with their disability because I’m dyslexic myself. Although no longer suffer from the severe symptoms that Laws apparently still does, many things that most people take for granted: thing like spelling (as readers of this blog no doubt have noticed), grammar, and even basic math (I’m talking addition and subtraction here), are a continual challenge. But like Laws, “If I had the option, I don’t think I would cure it.” And while I’ve never come up with anything as innovative as organizing a field guide by color, like him I too firmly believe that dyslexia, whether because of the different architecture of my brain or the effort to compensate for it, has profoundly influenced how I think about the world. I doubt very much that I would be who I am, or have whatever skills as an advocate that I posses, if it wasn’t for dyslexia. Yet blogging poses particular challenges. Here, the publication of written product is much more immediate than I am accustomed to and, even with a spell-check, the ability to rigorously proof a document doesn’t exist. So to all of you who have noticed a “weather” that should have been “whether” or an “affect” that should have been “effect” or a misplaced apostrophe (I hate those dammed things), you’ll have to bear with me.

Moonshine Ink 12/13/2007 Sierra Nevada: Global Hub of Chipmunk Diversity Review of The Laws Field Guide, by Pamela Biery

If you love the Sierra Nevada, “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” deserves a space in your backpack, on your coffee table, or on your child’s desk. This first-edition comprehensive 8-by-4-inch gem is a beautiful resource for better understanding the flora and fauna of the Sierra Nevada. Providing detailed sections on insects, tracks, stars, scat, and mushrooms as well as plants, birds, and animals, this book offers the in-field identification tools that spark interest for more research once at home. Since the book is focused on illustration, it is a perfect all-age introduction to using field guides. Jack Laws (nom de plume, John Muir Laws) is a trained wildlife biologist, an associate of the California Academy of Sciences and has worked as an environmental educator for more than 25 years. For the guide, he supplemented his own field research and subsequent illustrations with the extensive specimen resources at The California Academy of Sciences, ensuring accuracy. He also field-tested the book with all ages, collecting input from children and young adults in addition to veteran adult hikers and back packers. The guide, published by Heyday Books, came to my attention in summer 2006. Heyday Books founder and publisher Malcom Margolin was a guest speaker at the Sierra Nevada Alliance’s Annual Conference and announced the release of the Laws Guide. Instead of the expected sound-bite sales pitch, Margolin brought to light some little known facts included in Laws’ book: for instance, did you know that the Sierra Nevada has the world’s greatest diversity of chipmunks? Or that when you see a lizard doing push-ups he really is deliberately puffing himself up to look larger? These kinds of natural history insights are woven throughout Laws Field Guide, and are designed to increase awareness of the Sierra Nevada’s rare biodiversity. Laws’ vision of conservation for the remaining riches in the Sierra Nevada environment kept him motivated throughout six years of book development. In the intro to his book, he states, “By observing, interacting and discovering, we come to know and love. This love and knowledge is what motivates us to stewardship. Inspiring conservation and stewardship is my best hope for The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada.” Laws is currently starting work organizing fundraising and conceptual planning for a guide to Coastal California and the provinces and adjacent mountains of Big Sur, through the Redwood Belt and north to the Oregon border. He has also previously published “Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide.” The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada is available at Bookshelf Stores in Tahoe City and Truckee. For more information on the book, visit The Sierra Nevada Classroom Project Efforts to create a curriculum tying the Laws Field Guide to the State of California education standards and securing funding to donate sets of field guides to schools throughout the Sierra Nevada are now underway. Become a sponsor of this education project through the non-profit Heyday Institute. Contact Kelly Lee, Heyday’s Director of Development, at 510-549-3564 Ext. 307.

Reno Gazette-Journal 2/29/07 Sierra Field Guide is an Exhaustive Catalogue, by Susan Skorupa

Armed with a good pair of binoculars and a sketch pad, John Muir Laws set off into the Sierra Nevada a few years ago to start the field guide he dreamed of making as a boy. In his young imagination, the book contained lots of pictures. Over the years, the idea kept building and expanding — more pictures, more examples, more color coding. He wanted a tool for the flower lover, the bird watcher, the conservationist, the curious student of natural science who turned over rocks and poked sticks into toadstools. “I’ve always been interested in natural history,” said Laws, no relation to naturalist John Muir, and author of “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” (Heyday Books, $24.95 paperback). “I was not satisfied with the field guides available.” Because he’s dyslexic, Laws imagined a guide to the plants and animals of the Sierra heavy with drawings. “When a dyslexic makes field guides, there are lots of (drawings), lots of color codings. But it seems to work for non-dyslexics as well,” said Laws in a recent interview from San Francisco, where he lives and works. Laws’ field guide contains six years of work and more than 2,800 of his own illustrations of more than 1,700 species of trees, wildflowers, ferns, fungi, lichens, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, insects and others, plus drawings of animal tracks and scat, flowers divided by color and the number of petals in blooms, spiders identified by the appearance of their web construction, a few pages on clouds and weather and depictions of the night sky at the equinoxes and solstices. “You know you have all these ideas, dream projects we see ourselves working on in the future. This was that for me,” he said. It might have remained just a dream had his grandmother not made him realize that the only way to accomplish it was to jump in with both feet. With college degrees in conservation and resource studies and wildlife biology, Laws set off into the high country with a backpack and art equipment. “One way or another I was going to make this book work,” he said. “One thing after another fell into place, and it worked. I got some grants with the help of my publisher to help support myself and be able to spend the entire summer backpacking, painting wildflowers and everything I came across.” When the snow flew, Laws would come out of the mountains and use the collections at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco to supplement his first-hand research, correcting drawings or making new drawings. When spring arrived, he’d return to the Sierra. Laws followed that schedule from the early- to mid-2000s. “The plants were very cooperative,” Laws said with a laugh. “I would walk up to a plant, then paint the wildflowers without even picking the plants. Because by the time you’re done doing a portrait of a plant, you’ve fallen in love with this little rose or orchid. I didn’t want to leave this swath of plucked plants behind me.” Birds and mammals were trickier models. “I had a good pair of binoculars. When I’d see one, I’d start taking fast sketches of postures, patterns and poses,” he said. “I wanted to capture the sense of the animal.” He’d capture those attitudes, building a mental image of the animal in his head and make a study on the spot. Those elements led to finer drawings. Some animals, such as the wolverine, Laws has never seen in the wild, even after staking out likely spots for sightings. For those and other elusive creatures, Laws depended on video footage and photos for his representations. Even with all that work, Laws knew that not every creature and plant in the Sierra was going to end up in his field guide. He had to have guidelines. For some groups of animals and plants, it was pretty straightforward using lists of, for instance, the mammals of the Sierra. But insects are an amazingly diverse group. Laws’ field guide illustrates and describes three dozen types of flies, from the spotted fruit fly to the bee fly. But those are only the most common flies found in the Sierra, not all of them. Because there were so many animals and only a specific amount of room in his field guide, Laws chose his entries as those being the most common of their type and those with some kind of “wow” factor — those that are so special that people wonder about them. “I wanted people to pick it (the book) up and say, ‘I had no idea there are this many species up there,'” he said. “If it was something that had everything in it, you would not be able to put all the beetles in one book and still be able to throw it in your backpack.” The book covers the Sierra from Sequoia National Forest in the south to Lassen National Forest in the north and from the Ponderosa pine growth line on both the east and west slopes up to the crest. With the population of the area growing, “it’s more important to understand what is out there, to appreciate it, fall in love with it and be willing to protect it,” he said. The Beachcomber The Critter Report by Dave MacKenzie Sometime back in the mid 90’s, when I took over the Muir Woods section of the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, a young man volunteered to help. “Jack” asked me if he could try to find a Northern Spotted Owl, a notoriously difficult bird to find in the winter. Jack had a notebook with an extremely detailed hand-drawn map of a secret location in a local canyon, but what also impressed me was the superb hand-sketched notebook in which he had this map. Jack didn’t find the owl that year, but the location has since turned out to be a reliable one for nesting Spotted Owls. Several years later, and after discovering that Jack Laws was a Cal classmate of Bonnie’s daughter Dori, Bonnie and I jumped at the chance to join Jack’s new field sketching group – to develop our skills in the natural world we both love so much. For a couple of years we trekked with Jack from Pierce Point Ranch (Tomales State Park at Pt. Reyes) to Coyote Point Reserve in the south bay, sketching everything from California Bay Laurels (related to Avocados, Jack pointed out – and their fruit even looks like a small avocado) to Tule Elk and perched hawks or trotting Gray Foxes (which several sketchers could study with quick multiplexed snapshot views through the telescope). While we got OK at pencil and watercolor in the field, we were all amazed at Jack’s rapid-fire, and excellent sketching skills. With a quick pencil outline here (multiple views), a splash of watercolor there –a very respectable souvenir and scientific note of an amazing outdoor experience was created. So, when I learned recently that Jack (full name and nom de plume John Muir Laws) had just completed his multi-year project The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada, I was more than ready for a copy. And what a result it is! But why should I be pushing a Sierra Nevada nature guide to Muir Beachers? Well, many of us visit the Sierra each year or as often as practical (and if you don’t, why not?). The Sierra Nevada has some of the greatest diversity of species on earth, and of course some of the best scenery. Second, many of the plants and animals found in the Sierra are also found in or near Muir Beach. This isn’t totally a co-incidence, as Mt. Tam and the coastal ranges once were part of the Sierra, having been separated long ago by the massive Modoc lava flows and central valley rift. It is not a co-incidence that both have types of sequoias and manzanitas. Not all of the birds and mammals are common, but many are and migrations of the winged variety (including insects) have led to widespread distribution of many species in California. So what’s so special about this field guide? First, it covers a lot of territory, biologically speaking. From fungi (aka mushrooms) and lichens to trees and shrubs, flowers, insects (including butterflies and dragonflies), spiders, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, weather, and even the night sky! A tremendous amount of information in a very convenient 8 ½” by 4 ½” pocket-sized tough-cover book that is a must have for Sierra hiking and backpacking. If you only get one field guide in the next few years, get this one. And this is not just a bunch of pretty plates (although the drawings are excellent and informative – all painted by Jack himself). This a tome of useful and fascinating information, and all of the contents are easy to use and simply organized. Some examples of interesting contents: the White Matsutake mushroom (found under pines or manzanita) has gills that smell like cinnamon; a nicely drawn guide to lichens (algae plus a fungus) which points out how they are indicators of air quality; a section on galls and the insects that cause them; an excellent guide to trees based on a simple selection process (many of these trees are found in or near Muir Beach); nice descriptions of horsetails and ferns; a color and number-of-petals guide to a lot of wildflowers (I can do birds, but I have to rely on Bonnie for most flower identifications); a note on how Achilles is said to have been taught the coagulant properties of Yarrow (common in Muir Beach) from the Centaurs; how wild ginger plants are pollinated by fungus flies which are tricked by the ginger’s mushroom-like flowers; a guide to (female only) glow worms and glow beetles (“California fireflies”); how to separate the mosquito species (not all can carry west nile or malaria, but some can); details of aquatic insects such as caddisflies for our local flyfishermen (such as me); how female darner dragonflies may have eye scars due the their rough mating activities; separating the orb weaver spiders; an apology for not including everything in the guide (“I may freely, without shame, leave some obscurities to happier industry or future information” – Samuel Johnson); separating trout and salmon (yes, salmon of two species can get all the way to the Sierra); all of the likely birds of the Sierra (Jack has also written a guide to the birds of the Sierra, but all of the pertinent information and sketches are in this new volume); how to separate Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, California Mule Deer, and Rocky Mountain Mule Deer (by their tails and metatarsal (musk) glands); all the basic bats (including my favorite, the Townsend’s Big-eared); mammal tracks; and four seasonal star charts with meteor shower dates in those exceptional Sierra skies. 1700 species in all are covered. WOW! So I suggest you all get a copy of Jack’s book (available everywhere including, and spend as much time hiking in the Sierra Nevada as you possibly can, and enjoy it all. This year may be the driest on record in the Sierra, so it is best not to wait too long. “The times they are a changin”.

The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities Mid Fall, 2007, The Laws Field Guide To the Sierra Nevada, By Richard Saturday, Bugs and beetles and birds and bears and butterflies and Brewer’s Angelica.

Have you ever seen a Toadbug, a Skunky Monkeyflower, or the Bufflehead? They are all here, in convenient form: it’s a tall book, a lean book (and yet crammed with information in its 366 pages). On the cover is a color-edged guide to the nine sections, and, inside the cover, four to nine subsections. The birds … hooray for those of us who can’t tell a Phalarope from a Pewee, are separated into seven colors … plus Waterbirds, Hawks, and Owls. Every page contains five or ten drawings by the author. Exquisite detail of, say, migrating butterflies, so that if you, too, are a migrating butterfly, you can tell the ladies from the gents: the Painted Lady from the American Lady and both from the West Coast Lady and the Zerene Fritillary (what is it about the word “Fritillary” that is so, well, so fitting?) There is a whole page on scat because, as Laws opines, “animal droppings are excellent clues about who lives in the area and what these animals have been eating.” If we had our choice, we would choose Ptarmigan or Pika shit. Very pretty. Forget the Coyote and Fox. No sign of scat of the most dangerous beast of them all, what Mencken liked to call the Boobus americanus. As far as flying things, give us the Hoary Bat, the Ruddy Duck (or Duddy Ruck) and the Harrier (“Harriers fly low to surprise prey, kites hover over meadows, ospreys dive for fish, and vultures scavenge for carrion”). One time my friends Rachael and Charlie were out in the high Sonoran desert, on a cliffside, in the lovely post-dawn roseate/gold quiet, and suddenly, from the valley below, up like an elevator, came an Army jet, zoom, then shot over their heads, screaming. Scared the scat out of them. There is the Stealthy Ground Spider that comes upon you stealthily, the Running Spider that runs, and the Stealthy Ground Spider that gets ground-up, stealthily. (“Stealthily” is one of those words you wish you had in mind when you were playing “Superghost.”) Another is the Mountain Emerald, because it is a naiad, a word that would also work nicely in Scrabble. Do you know the Ringtail was called “Civit Cat” by miners. The Ringtail was “caught and tamed to rid tents and cabins of rodents.” The largest fly is the Giant Crane Fly that is said to suck your blood (“by the quart”) but that is a canard, he (or she) only sups at the flowers that bloom. And the True Canard, or rather, the Candelariella, doesn’t sup, it sucks: it grows on the branches of oak or pine. 162 pages are dedicated to plants, flowers, weeds, trees, bushes, and “Algea + Fungus = Lichen.” Plants with names like poetry: Mealy Pixie Cup, Brown Felt Blight, Quaking Aspen (they shake because “the leaf-stem is flattened near the leaf”), Utah Serviceberry (“May I serve you?”), Showy Penstemon, Gay Penstemon, Western Wallflower (“Woman who wallflower during dance make Dandelion on bed” — Old Chinese Saying), Common Fiddleneck (orange flowers curling back on themselves), Grass-of-Parnassus, Coville’s Groundsmoke, Common Horsetail Equisetum arvense which the author says “may be the oldest plant genus on earth,” fossils from 300,000,000 years back. (Where were you in 300,000,000 B. C.?).  I went to look up the Consoersus Stink Bug in the index and lo! there was a picture of the stinkbug hovering there just over the common “Bushtit.” Thus, even the index is crawling with creatures.

The Berkeley Daily Planet September 18, 2007, A New Field Guide to All Things Sierran, By Joe Eaton

A few years back, the Planet asked me to review a slim (hip-pocket-size, actually) volume called Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide by John Muir Laws, a joint venture of Berkeley’s Heyday Books and the California Academy of Sciences. I gave it a thumbs up, calling it “ideal…for beginning birders or hikers with only a causal interest in birds,” but also useful to seasoned watchers. Laws, like Peterson and Sibley, had written and illustrated his own guide, which did not assume knowledge of formal bird classification: all the streaky brown birds were illustrated together. The art was lively, the text concise and to the point. That same summer, in one of those unlikely coincidences, Ron and I ran into Jack Laws at the Summit Lake campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Laws said the bird book wasn’t just a one-off: he was putting together a field guide, or series of guides, to the whole natural world of the Sierra Nevada—wildflowers, trees, insects, fish, mammals, the works. He happened to be at Lassen sketching bog-orchids and other montane flowers. Laws gave us a prototype of the mammal and fish sections of the project, which for the first time gave me some hope of telling the Sierra’s myriad chipmunks apart. (The range is in fact a hotbed of chipmunk speciation, but that’s a digression I’ll resist for now.) I later saw him as artist-in-residence at the Academy’s exhibit on California’s biodiversity, where more of his images were on display, and I’ve followed his work in Bay Nature. Well, the project is complete: The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada ($24.95) was published by Heyday and the Academy this summer. And I’m happy to say that it lives up to expectations. It’s thicker than the bird book, but would still fit comfortably in a backpack. I tend to carry a lot of reference baggage into the Sierra: not the Jepson Manual, but just about everything else. The old UC Press Sierra Nevada Natural History was good up to a point, but it had its limitations. So I found myself packing multiple bird guides, a regional flora or two, tree manuals, mammal and insect and reptile guides. And then I’d encounter an odd fish. No fish guide. Another time I found a meltwater pond in the Lakes Basin swarming with neon-green fairy shrimp. Not in the books. I remember stumbling across an extraordinary moth in a wet meadow in Lassen and having no idea what it was. There is no such thing as a field guide to western moths. Eventually, consulting a reprint of a 1903 moth manual, I concluded it must have been a common sheep moth. That identification would have been a snap with Laws’ new book. The coverage is inclusive. Not only are there moths, there’s a half-page of bumblebees, and pages after pages of those beetles of which God is so inordinately fond. There are spiders (with web diagrams), plant galls, obscure underwater things like freshwater sponges. Sponges in the Sierra? Yes, and bryozoans and hydroids. Fungi. Lichens. Tracks and scat. The wildflower section follows the precedent of the stand-alone bird book. You don’t need to know the ever-shifting terrain of plant taxonomy to use this book. (I’m now taking a taxonomy course at Merritt College, and I figure on learning this version—in which the lily family has been broken up, and water lotuses are next of kin to sycamores—and then not trying to keep up any more.) Laws provides simple keys to identification, based on color and other obvious features. There are helpful asides: “Difficulty identifying Arnica? Relax, it’s not you…” That made me feel a lot better. The guide covers all the Sierra’s national forests (Lassen to Sequoia) and national parks. Range maps are used sparingly, mostly with the small rodents—location is important in sorting chipmunks—and shrews. Did I mention the seasonal star charts? Omissions are inevitable in a project of this scope, but they’re few. The book went to press too late to include the newly discovered Yosemite bog-orchid, a tiny yellowish flower that smells, depending on your source, like feet, Limburger cheese, or a corral of horses on a hot day. Although the bizarre cave-dwelling creatures of Sequoia National Park, featured in this month’s National Geographic, are not included, most of us non-spelunkers will never encounter them. I would have liked to see larval amphibians (I’ve met more tadpoles in the Sierra than adult frogs and toads) and mosses, a truly underappreciated division of the plant kingdom. Geology isn’t covered, but there’s an excellent volume in the new UC press series of guides. Overall, though, well done, and a model work for other regional natural history guides. How about the Mojave and Colorado deserts? The Coast Ranges? Laws is still young, but there’s a lot out there.

San Francisco Chronicle August 29, 2007, This John Muir draws nature, Laura Thomas

San Francisco native son John Muir Laws is on a quest, like many naturalists, to get people more involved with nature. He spent his childhood summers hiking and camping with his family in the Sierra Nevada, and, much like his namesake, John Muir, he observed nature. Unlike the famous Muir, he was not inclined to write. Instead, he drew. His love of drawing nature has carried through college and into his career as a naturalist and author of guidebooks. First he published “Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide,” in conjunction with the California Academy of Sciences and Heyday Books, in 2004, and he has just come out with his long-promised “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada,” (Heyday Books, 2007; 366 pages; $24.95). The guide covers 1,700 species and features 2,800 of Laws’ original watercolor illustrations, many done in the field over the past six years. Laws was so determined to make it easy for people to use the guide, he crammed a wide range of species into one book so hikers and backpackers would find it easy to take with them. Then he arranged it by species and primary characteristics so, from the inside cover, they can flip quickly to the pages that cover the plant or animal they’ve seen for a quick identification. But he wanted them to start thinking about what they saw. “I want to get people past just naming things into taking a look at what it’s doing here, what’s going on,” he said. Laws’ stunning illustrations are accompanied by observations and requests, like that on Page 309: Keep an eye out for the wolverine, now feared extinct. Summer is not quite over, and the Sierra is timeless; it’s never too late to follow in the paths of two John Muirs and delight in observation. “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” is available at many bookstores or directly from Heyday Books at (510) 549-3564.

Sacramento Bee August 23, 2007, Outdoor Library: Inspiration for observing the natural world, By Bob Ehlert – Bee Assistant Features Editor

Wouldn’t it be nice if Mother Nature had provided an owner’s manual to the Sierra to help identify the living things and natural patterns from the Lassen region clear south to Sequoia National Forest? Well, that never happened, but a close personal friend of Ms. Nature has come to the rescue with “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” (Heyday Books, $24.95 in paperback, 366 pages). This roughly 4-by-8-inch guide is chock-full of information on more than 1,700 species and includes more than 2,800 watercolor illustrations easily found among the color-coordinated index and page tabs. Produced by John Muir Laws and the California Academy of Sciences, it is a wonderful companion to anyone who communes with nature on hikes, on the water, while bird-watching or even through the windshield for those less able to get out into the hills. But Muir Laws, who wrote and illustrated all the entries, doesn’t want you to rely only on his work. He wants you out there in the natural world, taking notes and making sketches of your own. “The goal is to record what you see and to help you look more carefully,” he wrote in the forward. From fungi to forest to frogs and fish, the book is a small but powerful treasure of reference to nature.

The Daily Independent August 17, 2007, New field guide spotlights Sierra, By Nathaniel Liedl – Staff Reporter

With only a backpack and a sketchbook, John (Jack) Muir Laws set out for the Sierra Nevada in the summer of 2002. Laws’ intent was to create a “comprehensive guide” to the mountain range, by painting every living creature he had not previously happened upon. Some days he did not make it very far. But by the end of his journey, he was hiking 28-30 miles each day and not encountering a species he needed to paint. Five years, 2,710 original watercolor illustrations, and over 1,700 species later, “The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” is a reality. “It started off with the dream as a book when I was a kid in high school,” said Laws. “I hiked the John Muir trail. During that trip I started thinking about what would my ideal field guide look like.” Because Laws is dyslexic, his “ideal” guide features “less text” and “lots of pictures.” Accompanying the drawings are brief descriptions of the living creatures Laws’ encountered – fungi, lichens, trees, shrubs, ferns, vines, wildflowers, spiders, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Laws also examined animal tracks, weather and stars. “I’m one of those kids that’s turning over every log and looking at the termites in the stump,” said Laws. “…I wanted something that would satisfy that curiosity.” Laws covered the Sierra Nevada north to Lassen, which technically is not included in the Sierras but is still contiguous with them, and south to Sequoia National Forest. “I’ve spent a lot of time in other mountain ranges,” said Laws. “I’ve spent time in Alaska. I’ve spent time in the Rockies but there is something about the space, the light, the way the glaciers have carved the Sierra.” Laws, a wildlife biologist and a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences, said the variety of wildlife, particularly the contrast between the western and eastern faces of the range, amazes him. “That variation…has helped give us some of the unique flora and fauna that we have,” said Laws. “There’s just so much diversity of species and biotic systems because of that. The biologist in me is just fascinated by that.” But more than anything else, “the way that the light reflects off the granite,” makes the Sierra so enamoring, said Laws. “There’s a brilliance to it.” He has had some “delightful” wildlife encounters while painting in the mountains. Laws said that animals hide when he first arrives on a trail. “I think when I go out I carry this zone of disturbance, this bubble of silence,” said Laws. But by remaining still and painting for a lengthy period, he is able to break down that barrier. The “bubble shrinks and animals begin to emerge from the forest as that zone gets smaller and smaller,” said Laws. Once, while painting a One-sided Wintergreen wildflower, Laws was sitting on a log just across a river on the eastern side of Mt. Whitney. A group of Steller’s Jays began sounding alarm calls. “They were swooping down and obviously harassing something below them and whatever that was, was coming right towards me,” said Laws. A Pine Marten with a chipmunk in its jaws emerged from the bushes, but did not notice Laws – and crossed the creek on the same log Laws’ was on, “not two feet” from him. “I just felt so lucky, so blessed to be in that place at that time and things like that don’t happen if you’re always hiking around, moving around.” Experiences like that made his time creating the book, “the richest, most joyful years of my life,” said Laws. By making the identification of plants and animals easier, Laws hopes to help build future generations of environmental stewards. “There are few gifts as great as helping someone to learn the joy of exploring nature,” Laws says in his book. “By doing so, you help build a constituency for nature protection. By joining with regional nature study and conservation groups, you can link with like-minded people to help ensure that the beauty and diversity of nature we experience will be a heritage we can pass to the next generations.” Laws’ field guide is available through Heyday Books.

Sunset Beacon May 2007, Sunset Resident Creates New Guide to Sierra Nevada, By Jonathan Farrell

Like many people, John Laws struggled with dyslexia in school. Despite this obstacle, he used sketches to note his knowledge – original artwork from which he has devised a user-friendly field guide to the Sierra Nevada that scientific professionals consider innovative. “It is incredibly helpful and fills a real need for an inclusive guide that is user-friendly,” said Margaret Burke at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Burke, who serves as director of education at the academy, had lots of praise for Laws’ work, which took him six years and many revisions to get just right. “I am very pleased and really excited,” Burke said. Compact and lightweight, the field guide is a concise reference to more than 17,000 species of plants, insects, birds, reptiles and mammals. Burke noted that as Laws presented the trail and field guide in sections to various scientists, such as botanists and ornithologists (those who study plants and birds) at the academy, there was “a great buzz going around.” Laws, a Sunset District resident, worked with many experts in the various scientific disciplines to make sure the book was accurate. It was an experience that the UC Berkeley graduate of natural sciences found “absolutely fabulous.” He said it was “an excuse to run-around full-time through mountain ranges, meadows and many stunning places.” Yet, Laws’ main objective was to comprise a guide that would appeal to the average person walking along a nature trail. From childhood on, Laws learned much about nature from his parents, who were avid about plants and bird-watching while taking walks. “My idea was to have everything a person is likely to encounter; not just plants, birds and insects but animal tracks, plankton and fungi,” Laws said.”I wanted to make my field guide as easy and accessible to use, taking a lot of the technical difficulty out of it so that everyday people can enjoy a hike on the trail,” Laws said. According to Laws, with almost no color illustrations, the average field guide was too technical and uses terminology that average people don’t know. With full color, hand-drawn illustrations, color-coded tabs and subject lines, Laws’ guidebook helps people understand what they are seeing, on the ground, in the water or in the air. “I have also included a simple astrological chart so if people are out at night, they can observe constellations seen by the human eye,” Laws said.