Thursday, August 27, 2009

Scrutiny of Nature

As I have noted not long ago, I've been reading from a John Burroughs reader (Birch Browsings). Burroughs was a contemporary of John Muir and, while largely unknown today, was well-read in his time. And rightly so. His nature writings are an excellent, albeit more commonplace and every-day, complement to Muir's majestic sweeping prose. In one essay, Burroughs writes...

The casual glances or the admiring glances that we cast upon nature do not go very far in making us acquainted with her real ways. Only long and close scrutiny can reveal these to us. The look of appreciation is not enough; the eye must become critical and analytical if we would know the exact truth.

This is me. The casual admirer of nature. As much as I wish it weren't true, as much as I wish that it could reliably stated that I was a student of creation, it's just not the case. I love being out in nature, my soul is fed and nourished by my jaunts through woods and along streams, my heart soars with the birds and swims in delight with the fish, but all the same, my glances tend to be the short, admiring sort.

When you read a real naturalist, like Burroughs, writing, you can tell that they have learned things about the behavior of birds or plants by careful, extended, precise and consistent observation and it is a rewarding education. Rewarding, but time-devouring!

Where does one go to apply to be a naturalist? And are they taking applications?

Anyone here have experiences with long and careful observation of, and schooling by, nature that you'd like to share?


Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I'm like you, Dan. I would dearly love to be able to tell the differences among various species of sparrow, or even between sparrows and finches (except, of course, for the goldfinches who seem to be coming around because of our sunflowers), I have to admit I can't.

At the same time, I love discovering little details in nature. Once, I watched as a small groups of slugs moved over a small group of fallen leaves. I have stared in fascination at the life-and-death struggles in spider webs; sometimes, the spider wins. Once, I watched a yellow-jacket, irretrievably angled, sting a spider to death; two days later, this same yellow-jacket was quite dead, its corpse hanging next to its victim.

The emergence of a parasitic wasp from the body of a caterpillar is one of the most interesting events I have ever witnessed.

Yet, for all that, I wish I could do more, rather than less, of this kind of thing.

Dan Trabue said...

Wow! Thanks for the fascinating nature stories, Geoffrey. Quite poetic struggle for life and death there in the web.

rockync said...

Like both of you, I enjoy natural surroundings every chance I get. and sometimes nature comes to me! I have stood within ten feet of a young beaver working on a fallen tree, come face to face with a deer outside my back door, trapped and released an opposum that took up residence in my basement and raised a crow that sort of fell in my yard on day. Homer would end up staying with us 10 years and he had a large vocabulary - not only words but also sounds like a chain saw and a dog barking.
One of my most cherished encounters was with a giant luna moth while walking in the woods. It was on the forest floor, perched on a leaf with its wings open and fortunately I had my camera with me so I have a nice picture of it.
I am so blessed to live in an area of accessible natural habitats so I can easily daytrip into the mountains or along a river. They say "God is in the details" and that never seems truer than when walking through the woods, observing every creature large and small, every leaf, every tree trunk...

Dan Trabue said...

Cool stories, Rocky. Your crow that "sort of fell in my yard" story reminded me that the other day, as I was walking to work, a gull landed PLOP! five feet from me on a sidewalk, hitting the ground like a wet paper sack of water. Dead. I'm not sure what happened to him.

I'm glad your story with the crow sounds like it had a happier ending.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

About fifteen years ago, I was walking across the parking lot at Wesley Theological Seminary in the heart of Washington, DC when I heard this enormous CRAAACK, jumped, turned around, and saw a red-tailed hawk hit the ground. The hawk had been diving after something in a locust tree on campus - squirrel? pigeon? - missed, and hit a branch, breaking its neck. The sound I heard was the impact of the bird with the branch.

I ran over and stood helpless as I watched it die. I didn't dare touch it, but once the light left its eyes, I picked it up by the claws and carried it to the dumpster. It didn't linger long, at most a minute or two, but I thought I saw confusion and incredulity in its eyes - or perhaps I'm anthropomorphizing here. I'm not sure. All I am sure of is watching any creature die is a heart-rending experience for me.

Feodor said...

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