Arts And Sciences
Nature worship takes many forms. Two of them meet in a new guide to the wildflowers of Monterey County.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
Photo by David Gubernick.
Photo: Tiptoeing Through the Plagiobothrys chorisianus: Gorgeous pictures and brainy writing grace Wildflowers of Monterey County: A Field Companion. Shown here are Hickman''s Popcorn Flower and Yadon''s Rein-Orchid, named after contributor Vern Yadon.
It isn''t easy being a methodical guy in a slipshod world. And Vern Yadon is nothing if not methodical, particularly about cataloguing plants. A Douglas Steakley portrait of him on the inside cover of the forthcoming Wildflowers of Monterey County: A Field Companion shows a bespectacled man with a neatly trimmed beard frowning slightly as he regards a dainty pink flower-examining, analyzing and, no doubt, appreciating.
A passionate botanist, Yadon retired in 1992 from his position as director of the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, but his careful toil continues: he is curator emeritus of the museum and a faithful volunteer in its herbarium. In a telephone conversation, Yadon reveals that on the previous day he ushered a manzanita specialist to a site on Fremont Peak where he had spied a unique specimen some time ago.
"I looked at it again and decided it had to be new," he says. The clues? The shape of the fruit, the length of the hairs on the stems, the glandular designation of the ovaries-the sorts of observations that make most field guides intimidating to the layperson.
Wildflowers of Monterey County is not that kind of field guide. It''s a hybrid, a coffee table book lush with close-up photographs accented by brief descriptions of each flower''s features. The images are Carmel Valley photographer David J. Gubernick''s; the words Yadon''s. The book''s soft cover puts it at home in the living room or in the backpack next to the bread and cheese, where hikers confronted by carpets of bright wildflowers might whip it out for reference using the helpful color key.
Though Yadon frets that pertinent details about the flowers were omitted by the editor in the unfortunate act of "dumbing down" the text, in truth the amount of information is probably about right for a general readership, and still some of it errs on the side of arcanum. For most people, wildflowers are more an aesthetic than a taxonomic pleasure.
This aspect has been handily captured through the lens of Gubernick, who hatched the idea for the book several years ago when he was shooting wildflowers for a magazine and "got hooked." He took his idea for an art book-field guide to the Carmel Publishing Company and the PG Museum of Natural History-which has long held an annual spring Wildflower Show (thanks to Yadon)-and the project was born.
For several years, as he shot for the book, springtime has been very busy for Gubernick. He has made journeys to South County on the hunt for one or two species, and he has found himself scratching his way up the scree in the Diablo Range, struggling to stay steady on the loose rock while shooting the elusive San Benito thornmint. Anything for art.
Like Yadon''s, Gubernick''s background is in science. As a Ph.D. in animal behavior, he came to Hastings Reservation in Carmel Valley to study the kind of subject that makes people smile quizzically: the male parental care patterns and monogamy of the California mouse. ("They''re strictly monogamous in the wild and form longtime pair bonds, and the male cares for the young as much as the female, so it''s this unusual family system," Gubernick explains.) He soon found that the academic life wasn''t satisfying him, and he fashioned his longtime passion for photography into a career. His reason for doing it is simple. "It''s about capturing beauty and putting it back out there for people to see," he says.
So the artistic eye meets the scientific mind in this colorful new volume. Both of its contributors have achieved distinction here; every page flaunts a Gubernick photo, and three sport flowers that bear Yadon''s name. Yadon''s Rein-Orchid, catalogued and christened by a friend, is found in Del Monte Forest, Pacific Grove and Manzanita Park in North County. The namesake of the green spire with the small white fairy-flowers isn''t letting the honor go to his head. Of the plant, he says, "It''s of no interest to people, except they get their noses down there and say, ''Hell, that''s an orchid!'' Then they''ll go and look for something big and obscene."
Or perhaps, with a copy Wildflowers of Monterey County in tow, they''ll look for something subtle and pretty in a place they''ve never been before.
Wildflowers of Monterey County: A Field Companion (2002, Carmel Publishing Co., $28) will be available April 19-21 at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History''s Wildflower Festival and after May 27 at major bookstores on the Peninsula.