We are such fans of the new book Field Notes on Science & Nature, edited by Michael R. Canfield, that we asked Michael to write a guest blog for us. Michael is a lecturer on organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard. As he explains on the book's website, he is "fascinated by the history of biological exploration and how scientists and naturalists record work in their field notes." Field Notes On Science & Nature is filled with examples of the sketches, notes, paintings, photographs and calculations done in the field by some of the world's leading scientists and naturalists, whose essays take the reader on a fun and enlightening journey through the world of natural history. Michael himself is a field naturalist and scientist. As he describes it, "My research investigates the evolution of flexible developmental pathways in geometrid caterpillars, or, to put it simply, how the camouflage forms of caterpillars can be determined by what they eat."
WHAT NATURALISTS CARRY
by Michael C. Canfield
You might think that it would be hard to fall in love with a hammock. After all, a brief perusal could suggest that these devices are no more than a bit of fabric and a tangle of ropes. The naturalist and explorer William Beebe, however, would urge you to think otherwise. He was so attached to his sling that he wrote a 35-page ode to his hammock in Edge of the Jungle (1921). It turns out that for this hard-core naturalist a simple military supply hammock was wholly inferior, and he felt a true field worker needs a hand-woven indigenous hammock. And not one created by any of the peoples of the Neotropics, but one carefully crafted by the Carib peoples of the islands of the Caribbean. Beebe clearly was attached to his gear.
I recently participated in a symposium to remember the legendary New England naturalist Les Mehrhoff and observed a modern example of this phenomenon of gear attachment. In this case, almost all of the presenters wore a hand lens around their neck, and described how they, like Les, would be naked without this critical tool for studying nature. Unfortunately, I never got that memo and presented, so to speak, in the buff.
There are certainly many things we naturalists carry in the field that do not rise to this level of trusted and essential equipment. There are vials, jars, plastic bags, binoculars, camera equipment, and all manner of fancy nylon- and Gortex-inspired clothing. A waterproof-breathable jacket is nice to have in a storm, but certainly the likes of John Burroughs did just fine without this along with almost all of our current gadgets. However, a few things do transcend the inanimate and find the place of a loved and trusted friend.
Over our time in the field these trusted implements are either actively chosen or slowly rise above all of our other less important gear. It might be a pair of boots that has saved our skins from snakes or slippery slopes in the rainforest, or a hat that fended off brutal rain pellets on a mountaintop crackling with lightening. These holy items have kept us company and served us well on many adventures, and I think that each of us has one or two, regardless of whether these intimate relations are revealed to others.
My most trusted and important piece of gear is a field notebook. A small notebook, paired with a simple pen, allows me to record observations and sightings to which I can return years in the future, either to access data or relive adventures. It provides a rigorous companion who forces me to focus on really observing nature, because to sketch, draw, and describe an experience in a notebook takes concentration and investment. And the notebook page can be a wicked critic. When my ideas and output are poor, my companion holds me accountable. But when I have stayed true to the tradition of note-taking that stretches back three centuries, my notebook stays open and lets me know that these records will remain in the spiritual company of the records of so many other naturalists who have worked to understand the complicated riddles of nature. Regardless of whether you are already engaged with hammocks or hand lenses, hand-sewn boots or fancy parkas, I recommend a trip to out with a field notebook. You may be surprised to find a lifelong companion. **********
Jane Goodall News
We just learned that Lilian Pintea of The Jane Goodall Institute is coming to the Notebook in August and will give a lecture on Jane, chimpanzees and the new technology that is changing the way species populations are mapped and studied. "I absolutely love your Notebook and what you do," Lilian says. Stay tuned for details about the event.
A Little Squirrelly
As you know if you've ever encountered one, red squirrels are feisty. They loudly chatter at us—seemingly telling us to get lost—even when we're filling the bird feeders at which they dine. Friends staying at a nearby cottage this week weren't used to taking such verbal abuse from small animals, but we assured them that it's normal. Here's a short video that shows how fearless red squirrels can be:
Answer to the Last Puzzer:
Match the great naturalist to one of his quotes. Answer: a) “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.”–John Burroughs (1837-1921) b) “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”—John Muir (1838-1914) c) “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’ ”—Aldo Leopold (1887-1948)
To which animal group do lizards belong? a) amphibians b) reptiles c) invertebrates d) mammals
A Cool Thought for These Hot Days:
This week is the anniversary of the invention of the ice cream cone. The cone was born in a flash of ingenuity at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis when ice cream vendor Charles Menches ran out of bowls. A nearby concessionaire, Ernest Hamwi, rolled one of the thin Persian waffles he was selling into a cone shape and offered it to Menches. And we remain grateful.