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Wildsam Field Guides

If you could re-invent the modern guidebook, what would it look like? What specimens would you gather, which citizens would you interrogate, what archives would you plumb? A new travel series, unlike any we’ve seen, is making us re-think the resources we use to encounter a new place.

Wildsam Field guides are beautifully produced pocket guides with “a bygone sense of place.” The series, launched in 2012 by editor Taylor Bruce, has produced three guides, to Austin, San Francisco and Nashville.

Bruce, who has written for Travel + Leisure, Oxford American and National Geographic Adventure, put his journalistic skills to work, recording conversations with locals, sifting through historical documents, and, of course, traveling, to compile essays, illustrations, a series of recommendations for local eateries and shops and even an almanac. In doing so he’s managed to fashion a mosaic of moving moments, fascinating facts and indelible quotes that, when put together, lose their individual quirkiness and meld into something that could be described as l’esprit du lieu, the spirit of a place.

These are not your typical travel guides. The design is hip and unique, with hand-drawn maps to taco joints and swimming holes. Bruce has intentionally called his series “field guides,” explaining in a 2013 interview for Martha Stewart’s blog American Made: “Wildsam is more about soul. It’s the ‘wild’ part of our name—exploring those rough edges to a city, the gritty and even broken parts. Travel guides often gloss over those parts of the map. But a ‘field guide’ takes it all in. Magnificent and mundane.”

As for the second part of their name? Sam is the character in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden associated with the quote that has become Wildsam’s motto: “The world was peopled with wonders.”

Wildsam Guides’ motley mix of information may not appeal to every traveler. On one page you might encounter a list of Wildflowers of Note with poetic descriptions (Texas Bluebonnets are “violet-blue roadside epiphanies,” the Mealy Blue Sage a “native Texan, undeterred by drought”) and on the next page a list of the last words of inmates on Death Row in Texas. But as fellow wanderers and wonderers of the world, we salute the makers at Wildsam for their ingenuity and commitment to capturing the essence of place in one tasteful, slim guide with lots of soul.

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