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February 2018
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Episode 156 On Becoming a Naturalist

Today I give some of my thoughts on the historical context as well as my understanding of what it means to be a naturalist.

What is a naturalist? – Usually had a specific discipline – Frontiersman, explorer, then scientists, botanist, ornithologist, herpetologist, zoologist, etc.

With the internet we can all get a bit of each specific discipline so there is a real opportunity to form groups of people with broad skill sets.

More than anything they are observers and teachers.  They are the bridges between the natural world and the human one. They help people understand concepts that aren’t obvious.  They see between the lines.

They are also recorders – they keep detailed notes and pictures/drawings.  They are able to convey ideas.

Some well known “Naturalists”

John James Audubon – Born in French Haiti came to the US to avoid conscription into the French Napoleonic army.  The first to band birds – very ornithology centric.  Spent a lot of time in Kentucky – Louisville and then Henderson.  Very good hunter – commonly killed and posed the birds so he could draw and paint them.  Classic starving artist.

Darwin – HMS Beagle – Galapagos.  Never said survival of the strongest of fittest.  Said survival of the most adaptable.

Mendel – Genetics

Linnaeus – naming conventions

In Japan the naturalists were commonly the poets.  Basho and Issa are my favorites.



 At the ancient pond

A frog jumps into

The sound of water


Seen in plain daylight

the firefly’s just another

an insect



 In this world

We walk above hell

Gazing at flowers


This world of dew

is a world of dew

and yet…


What are some mental tools that will help us be better naturalists?

  • Being thoughtful and observant (can sit still!).
  • Ability to grasp higher concepts – not necessarily intelligence, more like instinct.
  • Ability to teach and record and convey thoughts.
  • Love of nature and all things natural.

What are some physically tools?

  • A fast camera.
  • Journal.
  • Internet (well somewhat physical!).