Deep Things out of Darkness: A History of Natural History

Deep Things out of Darkness: A History of Natural History

Deep Things out of Darkness: A History of Natural History

Deep Things out of Darkness: A History of Natural History

Synopsis

Natural history, the deliberate observation of the environment, is arguably the oldest science. From purely practical beginnings as a way of finding food and shelter, natural history evolved into the holistic, systematic study of plants, animals, and the landscape. Deep Things out of Darkness chronicles the rise, decline, and ultimate revival of natural history within the realms of science and public discourse. Ecologist John G. T. Anderson focuses his account on the lives and contributions of an eclectic group of men and women, from John Ray, John Muir, Charles Darwin, and Rachel Carson, who endured remarkable hardships and privations in order to learn more about their surroundings. Written in an engaging narrative style and with an extensive bibliography of primary sources, the book charts the journey of the naturalist's endeavor from prehistory to the present, underscoring the need for natural history in an era of dynamic environmental change.

Excerpt

We are all born natural historians. What happens next is up to chance, environment, and the circumstances of our particular narrative. I was lucky enough to be born of two serious amateur naturalists. My mother had been a lab scientist “before children” and my father was a classical archaeologist, but both had a deep and abiding passion for wild things, wild places, and careful observation of their surroundings. I grew up in the California of the 1960s and 1970s, when it was still assumed that children could and should spend as much time on their own outdoors as possible. I was a Scout in the last generation for whom camping skills were considered fundamental. Every summer of my teens, I spent up to a month in the Sierra, hiking, camping, swimming in cold lakes, and drinking unfiltered water from snow-fed streams.

After I had had a couple of summers to establish myself at camp, my father made it a habit to visit for a week every summer to be the resident adult and to offer training for the nature merit badge. The badge required us to identify a variety of plants and animals and to gain a good overall sense of where things could be found, what they were likely to be doing, and what else could be expected around them. I remember the fun of sneaking up on marmots sunning themselves on a rocky ledge above camp, and the relief of finding a snowplant in the nick of time to complete my list of plants identified. Nature was regarded as a “difficult” merit badge, not one to be taken lightly, especially when Professor Anderson was doing the testing.

Later I attended the University of California. I was not a good student. I wish . . .

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