David Douglas, a Naturalist at Work
An Illustrated Exploration Across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest
By Jack Nisbet
(Sasquatch Books, Hardcover, 9781570618291, 208pp.)
Publication Date: November 6, 2012
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During a meteoric career that spanned from 1825 to 1834, David Douglas made the first systematic collections of flora and fauna over many parts of the greater Pacific Northwest. Despite his early death, colleagues in Great Britain attached the Douglas name to more than 80 different species, including the iconic timber tree of the region. David Douglas, a Naturalist at Work is a colorfully illustrated collection of essays that examines various aspects of Douglas's career, demonstrating the connections between his work in the Pacific Northwest of the 19th century and the place we know today. From the Columbia River's perilous bar to luminous blooms of mountain wildflowers; from ever-changing frontiers of technology to the quiet seasonal rhythms of tribal families gathering roots, these essays collapse time to shed light on people and landscapes.
This volume is the companion book to a major museum exhibit about Douglas's Pacific Northwest travels that will open at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture in Spokane in September 2012.
Jack Nisbet is a teacher, naturalist, and nonfiction writer who focuses on the intersection of human and natural history in the Pacific Northwest. His award-winning books include the essay collection Visible Bones, the short stories of Purple Flat Top, and treatments of contact-era explorers David Thompson (Sources of the River) and David Douglas (The Collector).
"This new volume will delight anyone with an interest in wild Northwest history and the naturalist's adventure. In these elegantly crafted essays, Nisbet guides us beneath the surface of Douglas's narrative, and into deeper questions of plants, people, and place. The journey leaves the reader inspired, challenged, and more attuned to this unique landscape than ever before."
Lyanda Lynn Haupt, author of Crow Planet
"The young David Douglas comes alive with the reading of this incredible thoughtful account, where upon revisiting the exact sites where Douglas collected 199 years ago, the author charmingly describes the species of plants and animals that Douglas encountered. This is a must read for any of us interested in the natural history of the Pacific Northwest."
Estella B. Leopold, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
"In the era of Internet research and websites galore, a book that can compete with these distractions and absorb readers is indeed a treasure. Nisbet has written just such a book... Under Nisbet’s expert hand as researcher and writer, the relatively limited content of the journals unfurls like an opening bloom."
North Columbia Monthly
"The author, Jack Nisbet, is ideally suited to prepare such a volume: his admirable The Collector, David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest...captures the excitement European naturalists felt at seeing the impressive flora and fauna of the New World. ...those who have some knowledge or interest in the natural history of the northwest—and how the area came to the attention of the British—will find this volume charming. The chapters are short and filled with a wide range of illustrations, from photographs of nature to artifacts from Douglas's day."
Oregon Historical Quarterly
"A beautifully illustrated companion to 'The Collector,' the author's best-selling biography of Douglas that won the 2010 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, this volume offers 10 essays that examine the Scottish naturalist's three trips to the Northwest between 1825-1834 and connects them to modern reality."
The Seattle Times
"[David Douglas] is beautifully written, lavishly illustrated with many high-quality full-colour reproductions, and available at a remarkably low price. The book should be welcomed by anyone interested in Douglas. ...Nisbet evocatively transports readers back and forth from the natural world that Douglas encountered in the 1820s and 1830s to the same places in the present-day. Those who love the intersection of human history and natural history are in for a treat. Jack Nisbet and Sasquatch Books are to be congratulated for producing such a handsome book."
"The history of the Northwest is rich and vital, and readers interested in the region are well-served by motivated historians and publishers committed to quality books. This season's list is highlighted by another beautifully designed and written book about David Douglas by Jack Nisbet..."
"I recommend David Douglas, A Naturalist at Work to anyone who is interested in the natural history of the Pacific Northwest, because Douglas' travels marked the start of formal study of plants and animals in this region. His accomplishments are all the more remarkable when you appreciate the challenges of plant preservation, travel, and simply surviving the rugged wilderness that he explored. This book will give you a taste of what it must have been like to be a young botanist in the early 19th century, a life filled with possibilities and discovery."
David L. Peterson, Northwest Science
"Discover the natural history of the Pacific Northwest through the tale of a naturalist who explored the region 200 years ago."
"As exemplified in David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work, Nisbet’s method of interpreting regional history isn’t the usual staid recitation of dates and facts. In pursuit of bringing stories nearly 200 years old to life, he walks trails, visits reservations and tribal elders, charters pilot boats, climbs trees and wild-harvests food. His studies may begin by perusing old maps or historical journals in dusty archives, but his curiosity soon has him bounding out the door and into the same landscapes his subjects once roamed... What is noteworthy about his approach—by first reporting, then inhabiting and finally extending these early explorations—is that he actually places himself in direct lineage with the great literary naturalists of America. Nisbet is a modern-day John Muir, climbing to the tops of precarious fir trees to collect cones, and a contemporary of Henry David Thoreau, digging up native camas bulbs in order to taste the earthy fruits of the land."
"Nisbet writes in detailed but easily read style. Readers learn Douglas could have been killed by a terrifying storm that nearly sank his ship in 1825, about how he interacted with American Indians, about a probable son that he may not have known existed, and about his systematic collection of flora and fauna."
"'David Douglas, A Naturalist at Work,' makes perceptive connections between people and place, and tantalizing connections across time."
Barbara Lloyd McMichael, The Bookmonger