Ressurecting the naturalist

Scientists don’t pick flowers. They collect specimens. – myself :)

Few people will identify with the term “naturalist”. A lot of people love nature, go for walks, strolls, hike; do a little gardening. Gawking at majestic scenery; snowcapped mountains, endless deserts, dense rainforests. Munching on strawberries. Strawberries are not berries, by the way. Coffee beans are not beans, peanuts and coconuts are not nuts. A smirking biologist will tell you this. Admiring nature on a large scale is easy. But on small scale we are lost and we bow to the experts. We have to. Or we think we have to.

Naturalists are enthusiasts. They are not professors of biology or have degrees in life or earth sciences. Naturalists are curious lay people, collecting, marvelling at and studying nature. They contributed greatly to science. Past tense.

When biology became more and more focused on DNA, molecules and atoms, we amateurs had no chance. We have to leave it to science to tell us what everything is. So there is a tree; it is pretty, we might know what it is called, but the rest is mysterious fluids in petri dishes and glowing matrixes of DNA. Science, ever aiming at precision and “truth” removed the validity of human perception in relation to the natural world.

There is a scientism that takes away from amateurs. In a way we are a little brainwashed and it leaves us lazy and ignorant. You could pick or photograph flowers and you can work hard at naming them by their scientific names (guilty as charged). But you could also sort them by colour, season, height; prettiness, what grows in your garden, grandmas garden, associative patterns. Animals, you could sort by colour, fur, feathers, beaks, country. A bluebird with the azureus frog. Why not? You could create your own taxonomy and sorting that makes sense or amuse you. There is no way anyone can ever know everything or enough about the natural world. I think we should live with that with ease. Yes, aim at gathering (scientific) knowledge, but ultimately, it is about enjoying the utterly astonishing, ever surprising, bizarre, brutal and intensely beautiful world. Did you know there is an ant that looks like a panda?

You can get mobile applications that will help you identify bird song, plants, fungi, insects, geology. I think that is marvellous: get them; use them wisely. If it will actually bring you joy to know that that peep-peep is a blue tit, then by all means. But if pinpointing a beautiful sound to Cyanistes caeruleus is going to be a whole lot of fiddling with gadgets, and when you find out it does not really matter… well. Another time perhaps. Perhaps it is just nice to listen.

Here: a bunch of pics I have taken. See how I am not telling you what it is..? Just look. And when you have looked an marvelled, go read The voyage of the Beagle, to see how young Darwin was blundering, wondering, perpetually ecstatic, astonished five-year-old in a sweet shop. Then go be a proud naturalist.

(all pics by myself)

All pictures by me.
Relevant books you should read:

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