Friday, November 21, 2014
Nov 20, 2014: Erv's Field Notes #75
Monarch butterfly. 9/13/14 (Wolf. Oesterreich)
Thursday, November 20, 2014, Sunny, 100 percent snow cover, Temperature 26 degrees F.
Aging and weather have reduced my ability to walk at the park as much as I would like, so I have been catching up on my reading. "Cultivating an Ecological Conscience—Essays from a Farmer Philospher" by Frederick L. Kirschenmann is a book I have been putting off reading far too long. Early in the book, Fred says that farming with love and respect for the land and its healthis similar to the quandary that a naturalist such as Barry Lopez experiences. He writes, “Immersed in nature, the naturalist experiences the loss and pain of the damage we have done to nature. But science demands that one remain detached. How, then, does one ‘manage emotional grief and mixed indignation in pursuits so closely tied to science, with its historical claim to objectivity’? Lopez observes that ‘the modern naturalist, acutely, even depressingly, aware of the planet’s shrinking and eviscerated habitats, often feels compelled to do more than merely register the damage. The impulse to protest, however, is often stifled by feelings of defensiveness, a fear of being misread…Almost every naturalist has borne the supercilious judgments of various sophisticates who thought the naturalist a romantic, a sentimentalist, a bucolic—or worse; and more latterly, the condescension of some scientists who thought the naturalist not rigorous, not analytical and detached enough.”
During my career as a scientist and a naturalist, I was often troubled by the tension between the need to be objective and the emotional desire to defend the natural world. The scientist side of me wanted to know and understand nature but the naturalist side saw the beauty and mystery. What a pleasure it was to hear Richard Dawkins speak in Ames last Monday night and defend the art of observation, reason and deduction as a legitimate scientific endeavor. My graduate research was guided by this approach which, at the time, was very acceptable.
With a doctoral degree in hand I was hired to determine how pesticides in the environment were affecting reproduction in birds. To do so, required quantitative data and laboratory experiments followed by objective analyses that could be published in peer-reviewed journals and even stand up in a court of law.
Now, that I am retired, I find that it is more enjoyable to be a naturalist again and to be content with just observing and describing the beauty of nature. But how can one not object to the loss of the passenger pigeon or the potential loss of the monarch butterfly and the polar bear?