At the beginning…
At the beginning. That’s where I am once again.
At the beginning one requires field guides, without which one is wandering aimlessly, blind and ignorant. There is a bit one can learn merely from observing the newness, and this in itself is not bad. But to go deeper, to find out how one’s own ideas fit with the ideas of others, to decide if one belongs in a place, to truly put down roots, one requires more than raw observation. This is where field guides come in.
What is a field guide? It is a book, and it should be a book–not a website, not an app, not an ebook. Why do I say that? Because in a book, just as in a physical environment, one can amble along, randomly roaming, and encounter so much more on the detours than one might find following the map to a specific destination or looking up the name of the yellow bird just seen sitting outside the window of the cafe.
Field guides can also be people–either professionals trained to be guides, like rangers in a state park, or simply people who have lived where you now find yourself living, who can give you the benefit of their experience to build on with your own.
One needs field guides not only at the beginning of a new life, in a new place, in a new home, but also at the beginning of a new job, learning a new skill, exploring a new hobby. Field guides are necessary at the beginning of any new endeavor. That probably says more about me than it does about field guides.
I buy books. The personal advice there is less intense, less immediate, than that of a new friend or acquaintance. And I can learn, ignore, or adapt anything I read without offending the author, who is graciously offering me advice. I listen to input from people as well, but I will keep my ideas to myself while I am still at the beginning–reserving the right to disagree secretly or openly as the relationship develops or dies.
Field guides are amazing tools. I need one here, for Vermont. Several actually:
And, finally, a field guide that has random information that I didn’t know I needed, like an almanac, to walk me through the year with someone from the past telling me what it is, what it was, like here, while I discover what it will be like here for me.
I don’t know what field guide to buy first–after the road atlas, of course–a book of trees and plants, or a book of birds. Because to know a place, one must recognize the details of the sights and sounds that surround.
These things you learn without books and guides when you are a child playing in the woods–but even children don’t wander and play in the woods any more, do they? Such a sad life to be tied to a house, a parent, a watch dog, a pre-planned path. It is better to wander–with a field guide–and stumble upon the magic that is hiding under a leaf.