California Naturalist Handbook

California Naturalist Handbook

The California Naturalist Handbook is the textbook for the California Naturalist Program, “a new program designed to introduce Californians to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage volunteers in stewardship and study of California’s natural communities”.

California Naturalist Handbook
California Naturalist Handbook

As a neophyte, I found the Handbook to be an excellent introduction to California geology, water, plants, forests, animals, and energy — basic science and relevant topics.

I found the writing to be clear and complete. I think I understood what I read. There are many terms; the terms are defined and used with examples. I found no loose ends, where a term was used but not explained.

I liked the explanation of limestone and marble. The hills near our home are rich in limestone, so rich that they supply a 70-year-old cement plant that turns limestone into cement. From the Handbook,

“Limestone: a sedimentary rock composed of layers of carbonate-rich shells deposited in generally shallow marine waters, such as reefs.” “If sedimentary limestone is subducted at a plate boundary and then later is uplifted and reaches the surface again, it may return changed or metamorphosed. The atoms of the rock rearrange themselves into the smallest,tightest form they can under the influence of extreme pressure and temperature deep in the Earth. When the limestone returns it may be changed to what we call marble, a metamorphic rock.”

The same atoms, from shells, to limestone, to marble. I recall stories of Roman buildings like the Colosseum being stripped of the marble facing, which was burned to make concrete. Now I can kind of understand why many ancient buildings were later defaced.

Today a person on a California native plant newsgroup used the word estivate. Discussing how the dry summer of California changes dormancy, the Handbook says “If winter is when mammals hibernate, that would be November to March in Siberia but be June to October in California. We even have a separate word for going dormant in the hot, dry season. We say that animals estivate rather than saying that they hibernate.”

My sole suggestion for the Handbook would be the field notebook, a paper notebook to record observations — date, time, location, observation, drawings, photo ID, etc. Great data, but old school format. These days our phones take pictures with date, time, and location. A photo’s much better than my drawing. I’d augment photos with voice recordings or a spreadsheet. I’m trying a Google docs spreadsheet as a field notebook.

I found the California Naturalist Handbook to be well-written and instructive. I recommend it for folks interested in California environment, plants, or wildlife.


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I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

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