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the journal

Mar
24

Breck’s Book

Filed Under entomology, local travel, photography, retrotravels.net

Like most boys, I loved catching bugs when I was a kid. Spending time growing up in Oregon, Minnesota, and California, I’ve probably seen my fair share of creepy crawlies. I always have my camera handy nowadays to take a portrait of an insect when I’m outdoors and last weekend was no exception. I spent an extended weekend in the Bay Area with my family (including my beautiful 6-month old niece) celebrating Easter together. On Easter Sunday, we headed up Niles Canyon to Sunol, California – the epitome of a sleepy town. In fact, I think we doubled the population when our party of six arrived. Sleepy? More like unconscious.

But what better way to spend a beautiful Sunday than outdoors with your family in a town surrounded by rolling green hills abloom with wildflowers? Here are a handful of photos I took:

California Poppies
California Poppies

Willow Mining Bee on California Poppy
Willow Mining Bee on California Poppy

Soldier Beetle on Plant
Soldier Beetle on Plant

I was on a plane back to Southern California just four hours after these photos were taken. When I arrived home, there was a package waiting for me on my doorstep. It was a book I have been anxiously awaiting, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Because I like old things, especially books, I searched for and found an old copy of a insect field guide online. And now, a month later, I was holding a 1921 copy of Lutz’s Fieldbook of Insects. It was first published in 1918 but started to fade from history after its last printing in 1948, five years after it’s namesake – Frank Eugene Lutz – passed away. But Lutz and his book were not the main reasons I was excited to receive this book. It was the name written in the front of the book, most likely the name of a previous owner: Walter J Breckenridge.

This man has not faded from history. Known as “Breck” to those who knew him, Breckenridge spent most of his life promoting nature in one form or another. In the 1950′s and ’60s, he produced feature-length nature films and presented them across the Midwest to auditoriums filled with children and adults. He is a published author of wildlife books and an artist, adding images of fauna to his books as well as others. You could catch Breck answering questions and sharing stories at the Bell Museum on the campus of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where he served as the director for twenty-four years. From a Bell Museum publication:

Breck’s influence is still much in evidence at the Bell, where dioramas he constructed even 60 years ago continue to draw museum goers. But his impact extends well beyond the University campus. In Minnesota, Breck’s scientific work and advocacy led to the creation of the state Scientific and Natural Areas Program and to the establishment of parks, wetlands, and wildlife areas including Nerstrand Woods State Park, the Spring Brook Nature Center, and the University’s own Cedar Creek Natural History Area. His encyclopaedic knowledge of winged, scaled, and four-legged creatures, his unceasing fascination with them, and his artistic talent helped create and illustrate definitive reference works on birds and reptiles as well as evocative oils and watercolors that captured the character and habits of osprey, prairie falcons, Canadian geese, and many other birds with astonishing acuity.

Dr. Walter J Breckenridge lived a long life, passing away just a few months after his one-hundredth birthday.

Fieldbook of Insects, Frank E. Lutz (1921)
Fieldbook of Insects, Frank E. Lutz (1921)

“WJ Breckenridge”
WJ Breckenridge

IMG_9733 Fieldbook of Insects - Plate LXXV detail

I was hoping that there would be some marginalia within the pages of the book. Some reminder that one of Minnesota’s leading ornithologists used the book on his trips in a meadow. Maybe a passage about an butterfly he spotted or notes on identifying a beetle he found underneath a dead log, but it is clean for the most part. There are a few small sketches here and there, quite possibly by Breck, but nevertheless, this book is a treasure and will be a proud addition to my antique guidebook collection.