The Nature of Natural History

The Nature of Natural History

The Nature of Natural History

The Nature of Natural History

Excerpt

There is a temptation to start a book with some grand phrase, some broad statement that will lead the reader on into the details of the text. The movie people often use such a device, starting with the camera aimed at an immensity of sky and clouds, lowering it to make a sweep across a wide landscape of forests and fields until one village is picked out, one street, one house. Within the house, the focus finally comes to rest on Dorothy, sitting quietly at her spinning wheel, her outward calm a cover for some seething turmoil of emotions. Only then does the story begin to develop.

If we used this same trick here, we could skip the incomprehensible universe of the astronomers and start by focussing on our planet, tiny by astronomical standards but big enough, in all conscience, to its inhabitants. Our first camera shot would be of this earth whirling endlessly on its axis, blindly following its elliptical course around the sun. We might stop to notice that its distance from the sun was just right to produce the temperatures that we find comfortable (as well as some uncomfortable ones), that its twistings and turnings gave us day and night and an annual succession of seasons and resulted in a curious zoning of the planetary surface from equatorial tropics to polar arctic.

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