HOW AND WHY TWO NATURE-CONNECTED, SCIENCE-MINDED PEOPLE (WHO HAVE ALWAYS USED NOTEBOOKS OR SKETCHBOOKS) CREATED THE NATURALIST'S NOTEBOOK
Craig Neff and Pamelia Markwood launched The Naturalist's Notebook in June 2009. They created it as a new way to inspire learning about nature through science, creativity and fun and as an exploration of the 13.8-billion-year history of the universe and everything in it, including us humans. The Notebook is a reflection of their interests, their backgrounds, their love of collaborating, their concern for the planet and their fascination with the frontier of knowledge.
"It's mind-boggling how much science has discovered about the workings of nature and how we and the rest of the universe evolved," Craig says. "But there's a large gap between what scientists know and what the average person knows. We try to help close the gap. We want to inspire people to get out into nature—explore it, observe it, draw it, paint it, photograph it, enjoy it and constantly learn more about the science that explains it. If they care about the natural world and understand it, they'll be less likely to destroy it."
"The 13.8-billion-year history of the universe is the history of you," Pamelia says. "You are part of nature, not a bystander looking at it from the outside. The particles and atoms in your body are billions of years old. Discovering that you're biologically, genetically, atomically connected to everything else is fantastically thrilling. It gives you even more reason to want to protect other species and their wild habitats. The biodiversity on this planet is staggering and it took billions of years to evolve. We share that deep history. It's exciting that there's so much more to learn, so many more species to discover and so much more to understand even about familiar species and how we're all interwoven—how it all works. That's the journey. We're all in this together, we're all connected to everything. And there's nothing more astounding, astonishing, magnificent than that."
The two come at the subject from an unusual perspective. Craig is a journalist (a longtime editor and writer at Sports Illustrated magazine and the former editor of Sports Illustrated For Kids) and Pamelia is an artist (painter, photographer, founder of the pre-Internet—so don't bother searching—Masterpeace global art project in the 1980s). Neither is a scientist, but both are longtime students of science as well as avid amateur naturalists and global-minded travelers. Individually or together, they have been to 51 countries and every continent (including Antarctica) as well as the Arctic.
Pamelia and Craig began collaborating on magazine travel articles, often from an environmental angle (Craig won a Lowell Thomas travel-writing award for a story on the impact of China's Three Gorges Dam), soon after getting married in 1995, when they were living in New York City. They realized how much they loved working together creatively and journalistically. Their daily brainstorming in the 1990s and early 2000s (often during early-morning walks from their downtown Manhattan apartment to the Hudson River with their late Wheaten terrier, Wooster) planted seeds that eventually sprouted into The Naturalist's Notebook.
Pamelia and Craig now live on the coast of Maine, near Acadia National Park, with their three-year-old rescue dog, Rocky. Except when Craig is away covering the Olympics for Sports Illustrated, they work year-round on the virtual and physical Naturalist's Notebooks. They talk to experts, build installations, seek out unique and intelligent merchandise, and report, write, take photographs and create art for the Notebook's website and popular Facebook page and blog.
"To us The Naturalist's Notebook is a voice, not a place," says Craig. "It's built on the knowledge of scientists and it finds expression in different forms, from interactive spaces in Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor to a blog post from South America to a video of Charles Darwin traveling to England with us and taking us to his hometown. We do things like hold an annual honey-tasting tournament because it's a chance to get people thinking about pollinators and the chemistry of food and it's fun at the same time. We like to weave ideas together."
The pair views the Naturalist's Notebook's two shop-and-think spaces, which are open from July to October in the Maine coastal villages of Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor, as interactive, educational art installations in which visitors are participants. Both Notebook spaces merge nature, science, intelligence, pop culture, sports, games, humor and shopping in visually striking, thought-provoking ways.
"We describe them as 13.8-billion-year environments," Craig says of the two spaces. "The rooms take visitors from the Big Bang into the far future and from the surface of the Earth—forests, oceans and other environments—through our solar system to the edge of the universe. They're hand-made, human-scale spaces that we create with help from young naturalists, children and even great scientists. They're only one part of what we do—or what The Naturalist's Notebook is—but We hope to eventually make our website as interactive and collaborative as the spaces themselves. If you follow us online you will always find something new and interesting."
"The Notebook is constantly evolving and always will be," says Pamelia. "Many people are afraid of change, but we love it. Change is an engine of life. We want to keep our minds open and growing and make the Notebook in all its forms better and better."