Gary Erickson gives a talk at the Spring Valley Public Library on his new book. (Tribune photo by Gretchen Lovejoy Mensink)
Gary Erickson gives a talk at the Spring Valley Public Library on his new book. (Tribune photo by Gretchen Lovejoy Mensink)
Gary Erickson booked it through nature.

"I first wanted to make a book about our trip to Yellowstone for our grandkids," explained rural Spring Valley resident Erickson, who, along with his wife, Bobbie, has compiled a nature guide - "Nature: A Guide for Beginners" - for nature enthusiasts of southeast Minnesota. "Then I started thinking that I wanted to take all the photographs we've taken of birds, bees, plants, flowers, trees and insects, but there are really no good guides out there for kids. You might have a guide for birds or flowers, but Bobbie and I have been doing a lot of photography, and we made a book that we gave to the relatives, then from there, we ended up having a reprint made, and our friends have been buying them to use on their hikes."

The Ericksons shared their book with Spring Valley area residents recently at the Spring Valley Public Library, not to sell the book, but to show anyone interested that a good beginner's nature guide to a local region can be made by compiling only the pertinent information and photographs into a book published by an online company, delivered to one's door, and carried handily through the woods.

Gary first showed library program attendees what is included in his table of contents. "I put in backyard birds, dragonflies, spring flowers, insects, bees and bee-like insects, trees, animal tracks and summer flowers," he stated, scrolling through the projected PDF version of his book on a slide projector screen.

Given that this spring has been exceptionally cold and snowy, he pointed out the spring flower chapter first, saying, "They'll probably start blooming this weekend. We're way off pace, but you might see hepatica in the woods. The white flowers tend to be the early bloomers, and the colored ones tend to need more sun. Right now, you'll see mayapples, anemones, trillium and Virginia waterleaf. The wildflowers are pretty much what you would see at Forestville." He went on, "The summer wildflowers...if you want to see those, one of the best places is LeRoy and Lake Louise, or the bike trail. The wildflowers and butterflies there are spectacular."

The chapter on butterflies illuminated the variety of species that "most people don't know are butterflies. There are tiger swallowtails, blue swallowtails...they're much more common than people think."

His bird chapter highlighted the difference between feeder species such as purple and house finches - that the "best way to tell the difference between a purple finch and a house finch is that one has a white patch on its cheek, and the other doesn't."

His tree chapter "isn't arranged by family, but by comparison," as he hopes to show his grandchildren and other readers the difference between trees that appear similar.

He told of the difficulties of photographing dragonflies and determining which species is which, and that some species have as many as 90 sub-species, that there is a difference between bees and "bee-like insects," as "bees are able to fold their wings behind them, and the flies that look like bees can't."

The animal tracks chapter is "where I ran out of pages," he noted, because of publishing costs, but it contains examples of deer and rabbit tracks and of deer and rabbit scat, as well as that of other native animals.

Program attendees thanked Erickson for letting them see the pages of his wonderful local nature guide and expressed anticipation for the former science teacher's upcoming project, a geology guide that will outline the properties of rocks and caves of the Spring Valley area.

As the couple doesn't intend to have more copies printed and isn't making a profit on them - unless one counts the remaining 14 cents after printing and shipping - Erickson's book is available in printable, downloadable format (PDF), softcover or hardcover on, and, Gary noted, the PDF book can be loaded onto a smart phone and carried along the trail, allowing the user to scroll through the pictures and pages to find the specimen that he or she would like to see.

Interested nature enthusiasts may log onto, search for "Gary L. Erickson" and "Nature: A Guide for Beginners," and order a copy according to one's taste in media format.