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It was a mild summer afternoon when I sat down on the quiet patio of a Borrego Springs restaurant to chat with Obi Kaufmann.

I wanted to meet the author of the recently published “California Field Atlas” and learn about this artist-writer who had produced such a monumental work. I was not disappointed.

Your first impression of Obi is his resemblance to a younger John Muir. He’s boldly bearded, intense and educated, but his love of the outdoors and his sensitivity as a poet and artist soon shine through.

Obi was in Borrego as part of his book signing tour, and I was lucky enough to spend some time visiting.

He calls his book a love story, and the beauty of the hand-painted watercolor illustrations certainly demonstrate that. So does the volume of his work that includes over 500 pages.

Obi was born and raised in the Oakland area, and grew up wandering in the beauty of Mount Diablo where he began mapping and recording what he discovered. He considers himself a different kind of cartographer. As an adult, he has explored the state he calls home and, “hiked, camped, sweated, slept, dreamed and continue to adventure in all of these places.”

“California is the land where I was born and where, having spent a happy life walking through its forests and sleeping out under it stars, I hope to someday die, far off trail under some unnamed sequoia,” he writes.

His book is not intended to be read in a single sitting, but rather “each map is a puzzle that, unlocked, reveals something specific, unique and beautifully integral about each place,” he writes. He calls his book a manual of geographic literacy, with both a scientific agenda and an artistic one.

“One is not political, and one is,” Obi said. The book is composed of 10 chapters dealing with the trails, water, mountains, fire and forests, weather, deserts, parks and wildlife of California. It is also beautifully illustrated and well written through the eyes of a sensitive heart and poetic perspective.

In chapter six: Of Life, Death and The Desert, Obi not only includes his illustrated maps, but paintings of birds, mammals, reptiles and spiders that live here. Readers will gain empirical knowledge about the biology and geology of a region, but also Obi’s story of his connection to California outdoors.

To someone who sees California’s outdoors as more than just a challenge, this is their book. It deals more with the spirit and inner discovery that comes from spending time and learning about the wild beauty of the state.

As Obi says, “This is not a collection of war stories. It is a catalog of an eternal face, a book written across the whole realm of California itself.”

He says it best in his introduction.

“In this book, I am participating in the wild reimagining of the place, past the scars inflicted over the past two hundred years and revealing a story about what has always been here and what will remain long after our residency is through.

“The California Field Atlas” is available from online sources or Heyday. Cost is $45.

Tarantula hunting

Fall has arrived and that means it’s tarantula breeding season. So what, you ask? It means that you are quite likely to encounter these big, hairy spiders while hiking the trails in our inland valleys.

You may not be fond of spiders, but tarantulas are not dangerous, and very reluctant to bite, even when handled. There is no need to kill them if you are not a big fan. Just walk on by.

From now into October, the larger male tarantulas will emerge from their underground holes to look for females. It’s a challenging task that may cost him his life. The smaller, and more reclusive females will often try to kill and eat the male after mating is complete.

So, love is in the air along the trails of North County, and hikers along lagoon trails, around Lake Hodges, Elfin Forest trails and Escondido’s Daley Ranch are likely to spot at least a few, and sometimes dozens of the spiders just before dark.

Email or visit

Obi Kaufmann, author of “California Field Atlas.”


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