They’re researching natural history of Mt. Shasta

Lauren Steinheimer
Local Chad Oliver and his girlfriend Abby Edwards are excited to self-publish their first book, “The Way of the Mountain,” on the natural history of Mt. Shasta. Here they’re pictured at Bunny Flat. The book is due out this September.

Armed with newly-earned university degrees, a note pad and a mission to make science more accessible to the public, a local young couple is set to self-publish their first book on the natural history of Mt. Shasta this year.

Authors Abby Edwards and Chad Oliver describe their vision for “The Way of the Mountain” as a three-fold book examining the past, present and future of Mt. Shasta.

“We first wanted to call it, ‘The Voice of the Mountain,’ but decided to change it,” Edwards explained. “When I think of a plant or a person, I think of the way it is – try to capture its essence. When you get to know someone, it’s more than just their voice, it’s the way they are.”

“Our goal is to make scientific information accessible and digestible for everyone,” they agreed.

“We’re starting with some cultural history and local legends, and then the next section is really getting into the geology, plants, mycology, birds and mammals,” Edwards explained that the middle section will reflect the present state of things.

“Then the last section will address current challenges,” she said. “Current challenges include water rights, water use, climate change, and what that all looks like moving forward.”

They said the deadline was set for September partly because, “it’s really helpful to have a deadline in place,” but also because Edwards and Oliver will be shipping off to Senegal to volunteer with the Peace Corps on Sept. 15.

The book will be self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace and the authors are crowdsourcing funds through a gofundme campaign.

Their fundraising site includes a pie chart breakdown of how funds will be used. Different levels of donations receive a variety of appreciation gifts, including copies of the book and handcrafted ceramics made by Oliver in the Shasta ClayWorks pottery studio. Check out their fundraising efforts and a short video here

Both authors have skills in the arts as well as sciences, and plan to create some of the book’s illustrations themselves. “The process has been really interesting,” Oliver said.

“I feel like I’m learning a lot about how to be my own boss,” said Edwards, who is simultaneously working on an art installation at UCSC. She’s making tiles at Shasta ClayWorks to be used in a memorial mosaic for one of her best friends from college.

On top of their art and science projects, the couple is busy learning French in preparation for their Peace Corps service in Senegal.

Oliver said they’ve already started writing some parts, but are mostly focused on research right now.

They’re spending lots of time at the College of the Siskiyous library consulting the Mt. Shasta Annotated Bibliography and plan to start lining up interviews with local experts soon. Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center is lending help in many ways, including connecting Edwards and Oliver with experts to interview. The ecology center is also helping to co-author the final section focused on current challenges and is acting as fiscal sponsor of the book, so all donations to the gofundme campaign are tax deductible.

“Phoenix Lawhon-Isler from the Ecology Center has been really helpful with marketing ideas and spreading the word, and Andy Fusso has helped a lot with the financial end of things,” they said.

The couple met while studying science at University of California Santa Cruz, where Edwards finished a bachelor's degree in environmental science in 2014. Oliver just graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Last summer, the burgeoning scientists were perusing the local book store and noted the lack of current literature on Mt. Shasta’s natural history. “There are field guides and there are history books,” Oliver said, “but there hasn’t been a natural history book written about this area in the past century. We think this book will be a cool update on what came before.”

After finishing college, Oliver said both he and Edwards were examining their career options. Both were moved and inspired by field courses offered at UCSC, and wanted to share the wealth of existing science knowledge in a format that the general public would enjoy.

“I guess I always saw myself writing about this topic, but in the form of scientific papers, which aren’t accessible to most people,” Oliver said.

“The way to move forward is to get people educated and informed,” Edwards said. “This book is one way to do that and that’s why we’re so excited about it.”

They pointed to the locally produced “Mount Shasta Wildflowers” book as an example of what’s possible.

After growing up in McCloud and attending Mount Shasta High School, Oliver said he’s excited to discover new information about this area he never knew.

“One really interesting nugget of information I came across is that long before the Mt. Shasta we see today, there was an entirely different Mt. Shasta. It rose from the same volcanic vent, but was a totally different set of rocks than what’s on the mountain now,” Oliver said. About 350,000 years ago, the north side of ancestral Mt. Shasta melted off in a massive debris flow, forming the hills in the Shasta Valley.

“People have been amazed by this mountain for a long time,” he said. “That’s why they come here.”