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Cal Poly Land: A Field Guide


Cal Poly Land Centennial Seminar, 2003. $29.95, 261 pages.


Cal Poly Land is the best thing since Bob’s sliced cheddar and onion bread. You’ve got to get to the store early on Wednesdays in my hometown to buy a loaf of Bob’s bread. I’ve been spoiled by its rich Ŗavor, its succulent texture. I suspect you’ll be similarly spoiled by Cal Poly Land: A Field Guide. This book represents a well-integrated philosophical commitment to honoring ecosystems as a whole, a mindset that weds conservation and preservation, aesthetics and analysis, the bottom line and a full heart. In one bold swoop it’s become the gold standard in place-based literature about loved landscapes in North America.


Part Eyewitness Book, part high-tech Sand County Almanac, this is a guide to the campus of California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo. It is an elegant compilation of writing, photography, cartography, and graphic design by collaborating administrators, faculty, staff, and students. Intended as a text for a diversity of university courses, it will make you want to start planning a vacation to take advantage of all that this central California campus community has to offer.


Cal Poly Land provides directed guidance to the flora, fauna, geography, and geology—and does it in spades for the campus’s ten thousand acres of buildings, farm facilities, and wild lands, promoting a sense of the “seamlessness between the tamed and untamed” aspects of the landscape. The expected fare of birds, soils, ecosystem types, and archeology is all here in photographic splendor. It’s ampliřed by fascinating chapters on the technological infrastructure (including, for instance, a photo from a sewer cam), architectural study areas, dance sites, art installations, and beautifully narrated guided hikes, complete with full-color topographic maps. My feet itch to hit the trail into Pennington Canyon up to the copse of olive trees where řve streams converge.


The details of place are balanced by essays on stewardship and sustainability, and a provocative consideration of ecological economics, which seeks to quantify the economic value of the biological and recreational services provided by open space. Pioneering land conservationist Aldo Leopold said, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Cal Poly Land is a profound reŖection of just such love and respect. It will serve as a superior model for campuses and communities that wish to follow in Cal Poly’s footsteps.


David Sobel