Bookmonger: Northwest guidebooks to get you outside this autumn

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 23, 2013 

Over the next month, whenever the weather cooperates and your schedule permits, I hope you'll find time to get outside and enjoy the spectacle of early autumn. Our fall color may not be as flamboyant as New England's, but there is so much natural splendor surrounding us, it would be a pity not to partake of it!

Read on for two books that will whet your appetite for a seasonal adventure.

Everett-based author/photographer Jack McLeod may be a high school science teacher Mondays through Fridays, but he spends his summers and weekends getting out into the mountains. The proof: his new book, "The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America's Alps."

It is true that our North Cascades National Park garners considerably less attention than the rainforests and beaches of Olympic National Park or the wildflower meadows up at Mt. Rainier. But McLeod's fervor for the beauty and the geologic history of the North Cascades is infectious.

He organizes this book as a series of stops along State Route 20, since that is the way most people experience the territory. "Thousands of drivers cross the North Cascades Highway admiring the views but not knowing the place," he writes. "Alas, travelers with their eyes on the end of the journey don't miss what they don't know they're missing."

McLeod specifies different mileposts along the route where drivers can pull over - and at each of those stops, he names the peaks or other significant features that people can view from that particular vantage point, discusses the geologic history, and mentions the historical human activity (hunting and trading, gold mining, dam building, and poetry writing by Beat Generation fire lookouts) that has taken place there.

He entices folks to get out of their cars - sharing charming reports of tiny lichens, dramatic waterfalls, and photogenic critters. The photos in this book are terrific, by the way, although some are presented in a size that is too small to be enjoyable.

Ever the science teacher, McLeod provides information-stuffed appendices at book's end on glaciers, geologic maps, plate tectonics, and more. There is so much to see, if you know what to look for!

Same goes for another terrific new guide from Portland birding experts Sarah Swanson and Max Smith. "Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest" showcases 85 of our region's most colorful, tuneful, or otherwise noteworthy birds.

Intriguing chapter headings ("Urban Birds," "Killer Birds," "Tree Trunk Birds," and so on) lead into an overview of each bird, and then information on the species' food and foraging habits, mating and parenting behavior, and migration patterns. Accompanying photographs are large and colorful, and often show both male and female variations in plumage.

"Must-See Birds" lists some of the prime locations for spotting each species, and also proposes several weekend birding trips.

Whether you have a yen to spot a pelican, a wigeon, or a woodpecker, this is a congenial book - interesting to read through, and even more fun to put to use!

Barbara Lloyd McMichael writes a weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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