Today my wife took our girls to a birthday party for one of their friends, and they took her a gift: her first field guide. It was something they knew she wanted, after watching her reaction on seeing one for the first time at the library a while ago, and being totally and completely mesmerized. That one can hold a catalogue of animals, plants, birds, fish, or flowers in their hand is an amazing thing to me.
I remeber being given my first field guide as a young child. My father is a bioligist and avid naturalist, and often took us out into the woods and on walks. He would stop to tell us about the things we'd encounter, and when we got home, I'd love to relive it by looking back again through his field guides. My very first one was from the Audobon series, and was on birds of Eastern North America. I still have it. As a child I loved the pictures and imagined the stories behind each one as I flipped through. I never tired of looking at them.
As an adult I spend a great deal of time looking through them still. My absolute favourite is Peterson's guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America [5th ed], but I have many others I love too.
I am forever looking up information on bird's nests, animal tracks, trying to figure out which species of something I've just seen (yesterday it was a mink looking at me from our dock, and the first one I've seen here). My wife has come to accept my need to have them near at all times, so that I can quickly flip open to show the girls something. My youngest daughter currently has sticky tabs on all the pages about Nuthaches in three guides, and loves to show them to me. She's also fascinated by a guide on sea shells our friend gave her.
I especially love local guides. If I could, I'd buy a guide for our woods. I realize the circulation wouldn't be high enough to justify someone making it, but I'd pay a lot. It's something I've often thought about doing myself. I know some birders who spend a lot of time and money trying to fill out a list so they can say they've seen every species in their guides. Completeness doesn't interest me so much as knowing what is common. I love seeing the possibility of what may happen, of what is really there.