Living

You can learn a lot from guidebooks

One of the sneaky things about a life spent outdoors is how much time we spend indoors reading guide books.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with staying inside or reading — I encourage all of you to read until your eyesight gets blurry — or guide books. But there sure has been a boom in guide books during the past decade.

And that’s not surprising.

It seems like one outdoor passion quickly leads to another.

My first, and still strongest, outdoor addiction was to fishing. But I started noticing birds while I was out there pestering the fish, and I wanted to know their names.

So, I bought a birding guidebook. Now I own about 10 of them – and two pairs of binoculars and one spotting scope.

But the snowball had just started rolling downhill.

I then bought guides to native plants, guides to trees, a butterfly identification guide, a wildlife footprint identification guide, a guide to public beaches in Puget Sound – and on and on and on.

A quick glance at my home library gives the impression that I spend a lot of time sitting in a chair and learning about the outdoors. That is not happening.

I take my guidebooks outside with me. That means some of them show some of the water-wrinkled pages, mud smears and pond goo that comes with the Northwest seasons.

I mean, that goop is already all over my boots, my waders, my car and my clothes, so why not smear some on the books?

The Northwest is not for the squeamish.

The dog-eared pages on my bird guidebooks have smears of Puget Sound beach mud, Grays Harbor beach mud, Yakima River backwater mud — that page smells kind of like methane — and even city mud from a birdwalk around Capitol Lake.

The truth is that I’m addicted to guide books. During the past year, I’ve bought guide books on these topics:

Surfing beaches in Mexico.

Surfing beaches in Hawaii.

Pacific Coast whales.

Aquatic insect hatches on Oregon’s Deschutes River.

Day hikes in Mount Rainier National Park.

Backcountry trails in Yellowstone National Park.

And so on.

I just got, you guessed it, another guide book — and it is a winner.

It’s the revised edition of “The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest,” by J. Duane Sept.

The book is a happy nerdfest that explains the difference among marine worms: Did you know there are flatworms, ribbon worms, segmented worms and peanut worms?

I’m serious.

Anyway, I carted this book around while exploring Puget Sound beaches during the minus tides on the summer solstice.

The book helped me learn a lot about the huge Lion’s Mane jellyfish I found drifting with the current one early morning. I also learned a lot about sponges, shellfish, marine plants and even fish.

I learned that the Lion’s Mane has tentacles that usually reach about 10 feet long, but one overachieving specimen had tentacles 119 feet long. Like I said, this book is a nerdfest, but it’s a nerdfest we can all embrace.

I also learned that the Lion’s Mane is found from Alaska to southern California and touching this weird beast — the ones I found were bigger than basketballs and looked like an alien from the 1960s version of Star Trek – can leave a rash and burning sensation to human skin.

Now, that is good to know.

The book has great chapters that explain how tides work, beach habitats, good beaches for beachcombing and much more.

A guide book is sort of like a key: It opens doors and shows us things we never suspected.

But it’s important to be careful, as one outdoor passion leads to another, it also leads to shelves of guidebooks.

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