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  • Writer's pictureCatharine Riggs

Hummingbird Salamander

Updated: Feb 21

After my exhilarating and enlightening week spent at the Bodega Marine Lab intensive getting re-certified as a California Naturalist, I thought what better way to express my love for nature than to connect readers with books where the setting is integral to the plot. Great writing can transport a reader to an unknown locale and allow them to be transformed by the local flora and fauna without ever leaving their chair.

I was unsure of the first book to showcase until I came across a passage in my current read, a 2021 speculative thriller by Jeff VanderMeer. This passage from HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER captured my recent sensory experience along the Northern California coast.


 “Much of Silvina’s journal described an epic journey down the West Coast. According to her account, she started at the border of Canada and gone as far a south as Northern California…

For the first time, I felt, in a way, as if I was home,” Sylvina wrote. “In those endless miles of coast, in the cold and the fog and the rain, I opened up what was closed down. I received and kept receiving. It was sunless. Bridges would appear monstrous out of endless shadow, almost brutalist. The smell of marsh water would hit unexpected and the richness of cedar. The hawks on the telephone wire felt like sentinels judging my progress.

I would drive until I found a wilderness trail—through hills or along the coast. I loved lighthouses because they were always somewhere isolated. I didn’t like to see lots of people when driving. How can we pretend we are alone, but I wanted to pretend I was alone until I wasn’t.

I saw deer and otters, a bobcat or two, and, once, a bear in the distance. Just a smudge, a shadow. But that was enough. While in the trees, as I walked, so many birds, and under rocks and fallen branches a world of the small that carried on beneath our notice.” Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer.

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