We've recently made a couple of visits to the Acadia National Park archives. They're a fascinating resource located at park headquarters. Our Notebook colleagues Eli and Virginia have been doing research there for College of the Atlantic projects (http://thereisasaltyoat.blogspot.com/). They obtained permission for Pamelia and me to join them and look at some of the mammals, birds, insects, art, photographs, books and other preserved Acadiana.
Pamelia, as is her wont, brought pencils and sketchbooks so we could draw. Or sketch. Or doodle. Or scratch out stick figures. She has a simple answer for all those people—you know who you are—who say, "I can't draw." Yes you can, Pamelia says, and she is quite effective at inserting pencils into the hands of self-described sketch-o-phobics. These folks then rediscover their inner first-grader, start smiling and leave feeling enriched.
The quote at the top of this blog offers one good reason why anyone interested in nature should at least try to draw. No matter what you sketch, the act of studying the scene or object or animal you're illustrating will give you a better appreciation of the subject. It also will make you aware of your own powers of observation. You don't have to show anyone what you draw, or write a dissertation about the electrifying feather pattern you noticed on a bird's wing, or shout from a rooftop that—woo hoo!—you've finally started seeing the world more clearly. You can just close your notebook and realize that you've had fun.
You won't realize it, but your brain will have changed. It will have formed new connections and pathways that you will be able to build on if you dare to pick up a pencil and paper again.
About the Arsenic...
Carl W. Albrecht, Curator of Natural History, Ohio Historical Society, has written about the use of chemical element 33, one of the world's most famous poisons (and most insidious groundwater pollutants), in museum preservation in an article called "Arsenic and Old Collections":
"Mixtures of arsenic and soap, often with other ingredients, were developed early on. These were to persist well into the twentieth century as widely used poisons in the preparation of natural history materials. Naturalists developed many variations, including rubbing arsenic with vaseline or powdered chalk when wet treatments were not appropriate. Also, they sprayed or dipped specimens in various poisonous solutions. And, the types of materials that were treated expanded to include botanicals, bones, fur rugs, and anthropological objects. Poisons, especially arsenic, as you will see, could cause severe problems for people who handled them.
"Often unknown to managers and curators, museums today frequently have these objects and specimens in their collections. After having been collected and prepared many years ago, and stuffed and mounted using the accepted techniques of the day, these potentially dangerous objects have found their way into today's institutions. Museums may receive these 'curatorial time-bombs' from private collections or other museums. Regardless of the source, however, wary professional and volunteer curators must handle all specimens with caution."
Drawing Birds Here is a quick and simple way to do basic drawings of birds—not Audubon-realistic renderings but starting points from which you can build and refine.
Arsenic and Old Pencils?
Though the black rod inside a pencil is graphite, not lead, pencils were a cause of lead poisoning until the mid-1900s. That's because they were coated in lead paint and frequently chewed by nervous artists and students.
Answers to the Last Puzzlers
1) Here are the unscrambled words from nature, science and art:
a) flacterych = flycatcher
b) exfoglov = foxglove
c) ioncrate = reaction
d) loarchac = charcoal
2) The word kite comes from the Old English word cyta, meaning a bird of prey such as the species we now call a kite.
1) Mammals are warm-blooded animals that have hair, backbones, milk-producing mammary glands and which of these other distinctive characteristics?
b) symmetrical teeth
c) a middle ear containing three bones
d) the ability to see color
2) It's March. Why are the branches in the photo below turning bright red?
a) iron in the soil rising up through the roots
b) greater sunlight causing the plant to produce anthocyanin, an antioxidant that also gives grapes and berries their color
c) chemical transformation in the bark signaling that a male tree is beginning its reproductive cycle
d) embarrassment at being bare branches