Friday, 16 October 2015

Being Unworthy of the Term.

I dislike the word ‘naturalist.’ Or, to be more precise, I dislike being categorised as one. The problem with the –ist suffix is that it suggests (though not exclusively) someone who studies a subject and practices a discipline, and that just isn’t appropriate to my approach to the natural world.

Not that I have any objection to people studying and practising, of course. I have no difficulty with scientists, theosophists, podiatrists, hypnotists or archaeologists (especially archaeologists, heaven forbid!) I don’t even have a problem with naturalists; it’s just that I’m not one.

A naturalist looks at nature in a cold, clinical way, and talks a cold, clinical language in cold, clinical terms. If we have a particularly severe winter, the naturalist will investigate the mortality rate of a particular species and declare that as long as it doesn’t exceed 80%, the species should have little difficulty recovering. And then they go home to their warm houses and hot meals, happy that all is well in the world of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

I don’t see things that way. I don’t study nature, I observe it. There’s a difference. I don’t stand apart making notes, rather I attempt – gradually and hopefully – to make some sort of connection on a visceral and emotional level. And that’s the level on which I hope to understand it.

So if we have a severe winter, I’m quite oblivious to population statistics and survival rates. What concerns me is that there are fellow creatures out there in the darkness dying from the related effects of cold and starvation. It bothers me, even though I know it shouldn’t because we all have to die of something some day. But at the forefront of my concern is that they might be suffering.

And that’s why I’m not a naturalist.

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