Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I've been thinking about a question posed to the attendees of this birdwatching trip I went on last week, raised by Eric Bergman, naturalist at the Pine Butte Ranch run by Nature Conservancy. "What is Natural History and the role of a Natural Historian?"

So here goes with my response.
It is the story the natural world tells us, but it's also the unique perspective the observer brings who collects certain information and connects it together in ways that make sense of it in the observer's experience, then told to us in a story who's meaning is partly derived from the viewpoint of the observer. It is a story about time and place, something many of us bloggers write about, and it is different depending on who tells the story, even though certain natural "laws" may apply.

In the place called "Family Cabin" where many others have slept and where certain things remain relatively constant, such as a river rock fireplace and 1960s era formica counters in the bathroom, I take up residence for the week. When I arrive, the gifted bandana is converted to a bedstand covering and becomes the grounding place or foundation for the little pieces of another place, my Oregon home. This new set of features includes a votive candle, a small stuffed buffalo named "Roam" who travels with me, a flashlight, and a portable CD player. Over the next few days things get added to the bedstand "landscape." From Pine Butte a twig of twisted and heavily weathered limber pine is added on Sunday. Monday, from Indian Head, a found horn of a young buck whitetail, balancing and echoing the lines of the twig, which now hold the candle between them. then a postcard photo of the aerial view of this ranch is added as backdrop behind the candle. Wednesday a young deer jawbone with teeth still intact is added.

If I am the "environment" or system which now flavors and changes this place, as the storyteller it is my imprint now on this cabin shaping and changing its landscape in ways unique and reflecting my ways of appreciating and saving certain pieces of my experience and choosing to retell them on a nightstand. If I had stayed longer maybe the landscape would have continued to be modified, maybe bleeding over onto a desk or fireplace hearth, but certainly when I left Friday my imprint on that place was washed clean, just as the rain will wipe away the grizzly footprints we found on the Butte and the newly swollen river will wash away the spotted sandpiper prints in the sandbank. Other stories will last generations, such as the story left by a family who built a ranch and willed it to be used to help others appreciate the landscape and history they loved in Montana. Some stories may outlast all human storytellers, such as the geology of mountains, glaciers and rivers and the marks they have left on the Rocky Mountain Front. But as Eric pointed out to us, a basic rule of nature is that of change, and without the storyteller of a place, eventually it will be lost to time.

And change leads to diversity, whether via DNA created or environmental, so no storyteller will see things the same exact way, necessarily will tell a different story of a place than another. Therefore each of us has a valuable story to tell in describing a bird, in photographing a weasel, in sketching a lake, in tasting a wildflower. Because your story is different from mine, the collection is richer, more complete, than any one story alone can be. When I look out the window of my cabin at night, I only see this slice of the world - these constellations, these rain drops, these rustling trees. I want to know what others see out their windows of the world as well. And it seems to me this is one remarkable attribute of blogging about our worlds. Recording our "natural histories" and sharing our unique lenses into the life that surrounds us.

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