Zen and the art of not missing a field guide

My abundance of pumpkin and coconut got me started on that post about wanting a certain cookbook a couple of days ago, but while I'm thinking about the books that we wish we had on board, there's another that looms large. Or rather, it's not one book in particular this time, but a gap in our range.

We have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time in stunning tropical places, with the kind of clear blue water promising darting colorful fish and gently waving coral fans that you just can't stay out of. Just looking at the amazing things under the surface isn't enough, though, so we have a raft of different field guides to help us understand and interpret what we can see. In Mexico, they were region-specific guides that fed our knowledge of the fish, seaweeds and invertebrates in the Sea of Cortez. Launching out into the Pacific, we bought a guide that I believe is the standard: Tropical Pacific Reef Fish Identification, by Allen/Steene. What we I didn't appreciate at the time was, well, the whole prominence of FISH in the title and the fact that it doesn't touch on any other reef life.


The thing is, fish are just one tiny part of what we see on the reef. Here in Papua New Guinea, the diversity of life on the reef is stunning, and easily surpasses what we've seen anywhere else in the south Pacific. The squid, the starfish, the corals, anemones, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, molluscs, arthropods and more- for any information on these and anything else beyond the world of fish, apparently, you have to purchase a companion book. The same publisher offers one, of course- "Reef Creature Identification." And there's another beauty from the same authors, that covers a spectrum of reef life for the region in a single text- "The Indo Pacific Coral Reef Guide." A dive shop in Australia let me flip through their house copy, but there wasn't a new one to buy anywhere we looked in our last few weeks in Australia.

If money were no object, we'd have a sat phone on board and data to spend on ordering books to be sent by an international courier service. But even that wishful thinking is problematic, because we're just a little "out there" at the moment… DHL doesn't serve remote atolls in PNG. I'm pretty sure it doesn't even serve most of populated PNG dependably. And anyway, we're stuck for now and that's the way it is. It's just a little unfortunate.

We do have a great marine mammal guide. Sea birds of the world are covered. Shells, too, in a few different books. We even have a guide for reptiles, covering the turtles, sea snakes and fantastic lizards we see, to the saltwater crocodiles we hope we don't. But for the reefs, only fish. How did I miss this?! It is times like this- realizing we can't having a gap in our books we really want to fill but simply can't- that being remote is a little frustrating. But then again, maybe a little separation from the instant gratification of the first world isn't such a bad thing. It's another chance to pull out a favorite catchphrase: if this was easy, everybody would be doing it!

Eventually, yes, we can get a guide book to cover this gap. Maybe we'll have visitors to Totem (I'm hoping some of our family or dear friends come out to play with us in 2013!), and they can pack along goods from home. But maybe we'll be waiting until dependable international mail service. Unfortunately, that is a few thousand nautical miles and many months ahead of us. Meanwhile, we sail through the most biodiverse part of the world.

Cautionary tale I suppose. But for now we're just going to have a good time making up names for what we see, and daydreaming about the possibilities of what they eat, how they poop, and how they reproduce.


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6 Responses

  1. Totem Family, we wish were on our way to see you, but we will be a little late! Thanks for the heads up on the guide books and the Galley cookbook. I have looked at it on line so now I will buy it. Wish I could get one to you easily!
    Have a Merry Christmas!

  2. Great post! Just put those two guides (and the Galley Cookbook) on our Santa’s list for before we head into the pacific. Could you tell us the names of the other field guides you like? We’re just starting to build our field guide collection and it’s hard to choose from all the options.

    By the way, my wife and I discovered your blog about six months ago and really love it. Great combination of good inspiration and education for us newbies.

    David & Elena

    1. David & Elena, I’m percolating on a post of the guides we found really helpful and will share it soon… will see if I can get it posted in time for last minute holiday purchases perhaps? 🙂 thanks for the kind words, so glad you enjoy the blog!

  3. Similar story for us . . . the first year, we were just so in awe of cruising that we didn’t think about all those “other” reference books. But every trip back to the US, we brought back more nature books, star guides, local history, inland travel guides, etc. And when we left Mexico and sold a bunch of stuff, all our guides were the first items to sell . . . and the only things we ever sold at a profit!

  4. Beautiful blog, beautiful family, great writing, and you are well off the beaten path, so congratulations on all counts.

    Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Grenada

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