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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I'm Keeping All of My Friends

I'd like to make a case for books. Not a case to store them. But an argument in support of their
continued publication, collection and use as something more than furniture stabilizers. There was a heated debate in the household this year which was continuously, randomly and without solicitation, periodically reinforced. The essence of my opponent's position is that there is no need to keep any books in the house because all of the information is on the internet, and if I want to read a book that has been in my possession it is probably available as a digital file somewhere. The only argument that I had to the contrary is the only one that matters, they are mine and I know how I bookmarked everything so that I can find specific bits of relevant information. Plus. They are MY FRIENDS!!!!!

My experience today with internet research was satisfying in that I thought that I had found good solid information, made strides in accessing and processing information for further use in plant identification only to get home and find out the fucking aspens are in fact fucking aspens. The internet has a lot of information. The internet is mostly free. The internet is easy to use. But on the flip side, the information that the internet has is vast, is not categorized or curated, the information does not have to be credible to be published and you have to vet your own sources to determine the reliability of the source and thus the viability of the information. Librarians and book sellers in small shops whose avocation is books do that loathsomely tedious work for you. For an example, let's look at today's adventure in the  identification of regional tree species.

The internet had a vast amount of information on tree species, specifically aspens. birches and cottonwoods, the focus of my research. I found very little by way of compact field guides on line and a lot in the way of lengthy discourse on taxonomy. I now know specifically what taxonomy is and that I would never want Keiko O'Brien's job on the Enterprise. Thank you very much. I also know a useless bit about two orders of angiosperms. I now know what angiosperms are. I do not need to know what angiosperms are. What I needed to know in a very real, tangible and CONCISE manner was all the information that can be found in a pocket field guide such as the one I have in storage.

It would be great to have an application that would let you snap a picture of the target tree and identify it for you. There may even be one. But I don't have a smart phone so that would not help me if there was. What I have in storage is a field guide. It is a compact and comprehensive little book containing the greater sum of trees and plants indigenous to my region of the United States. Each entry is a botanical snapshot of the tree, its leaves, seeds, fruits and reproductive nodes. The written description often tells of a species quirk that makes it distinguishable from several look alikes within the genus. For example, the thing that makes a red maple a red maple and not silver. Had I the book in my possession, it would have told me a funny little thing about Aspens which would have prevented me from confusing it with the similarly styled Cottonwood which I identified earlier.

And that would be the fact that a mature aspen will lose its smooth, papery birch-like bark in favor of a coat of shallow fissures that develop on the older portions of the trunk and give it the eye-level appearance of a Cottonwood. I wrote the post, made my botanical print and got home to find the sun had set the top third of the trees alight with a golden glow as if they were coated in thin gold plating. IN THE TOP THIRD OF THE TREE! The bottom where the moss grows is replete with fissures.

And that is why we need books. Books are published with fact checking. They are sold by people who are knowledgeable. And those of us on this side of the cash register can confidently recommend a book whereas recommending a website induces trepidation. You can take a field guide with you. You can not take a lap top into the woods. So I will keep my friends, the nerds, the jocks, the story tellers and the lecturers. I will keep every book I have ever purchased. And I will purchase more as the financial picture stabilizes. Books are out friends. Webpages should be approached with a great deal of caution... like strangers handing out candy when it is not Halloween.

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