One day I would have all the books in the world, shelves and shelves of them. I would live my life in a tower of books. I would read all day long and eat peaches. And if any young knights in armor dared to come calling on their white chargers and plead with me to let down my hair, I would pelt them with peach pits until they went home.
Thus declares eleven and three quarters year old Calpurnia Tate in defense of the life of independent learning and discovery she intends to lead upon achieving the age of majority. Sadly, and as she comes to learn, in the Texas countryside of 1899, just because a girl grows up to be a woman does not mean she will necessarily be able to control her own destiny. However to fix one’s attention on this single thread of the exquisite narrative braid that Jacqueline Kelly’s novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate weaves for the reader would be akin to missing the splendor of a field of wildflowers for the sake of a single bud.
Born into a solidly middle-class farming family in post Civil War Texas, where although the land has since healed the people who inhabit it still bear tender and very visible scars, Calpurnia “Callie Vee” Tate finds herself in the summer of 1899 standing not only at the edge of adolescence but upon the edge of a new century as well – a century that will be dominated not by horses and wagons but by combustion engines and telephones. Distances will shorten, time will be compressed, and vast possibilities will open up for many who never dared dream of them before. Yet as seen through the eyes of a young girl in Fentress, Texas, the world is very much as it likely has always been and shall likely always be. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
It was with no small amount of wholly unintentional irony that I began reading Mark Essig’s Lesser Beasts; A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig while eating a ham sandwich. Such is the ubiquity of pigs. Yet for all the many ways the lives of modern humans have and to this day continue to intersect with the domesticated version of Sus scrofa, the European Wild Boar, most of us – even those who count ourselves naturalists – give little, if indeed any, thought to the natural history of the pig. Just as we do with most of the other creatures both wild and domestic that have long lived in close proximity to us, we too often fail to perceive just how much or for how long pigs have played important roles in the collective life of our own species. Perhaps that is why I found Essig’s book so utterly engrossing; it not only brought to my attention a wealth of information previously unknown to me, it helped me to understand just what amazing creatures pigs are. Keep reading…
Merriam Webster defines taxonomy as
1: the study of the general principles of scientific classification: systematics
2: classification; especially: orderly classification of plants and animals according to their presumed natural relationships
Many people, including a sizable portion of naturalists, might add a third definition:
3: the seemingly random attachment of names to plants and animals in a language no one speaks anymore; see also impenetrable, confusing Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
Given the 29 June 2015 5-4 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court against the E.P.A.’s attempt at regulating the levels of Mercury and other toxins emitted by power plants, the publication of Charles F. Wurster’s new book DDT Wars: Rescuing Our National Bird, Preventing Cancer, and Creating the Environmental Defense Fund by Oxford University Press couldn’t be more timely.
Difficult as it may be to believe, given all the time I have spent afield over the past decades, I have not yet seen a fox in the wild. Although Red Foxes, Vulpes vulpes, do inhabit the entirety of the northern hemisphere, including the Pacific Northwest where I live, I have never once seen so much as the swish of a tail or the twitch of a ear. Consequently, given the old adage “out of sight, out of mind,” I have never had much of a reason to devote any significant amount of time to learning about them.
The most scared I have ever been as the result of an encounter with another living creature involved a close call with a Fer-de-Lance (Bothrops asper) along a trail in Panama. Even after the encounter was over, I felt physically ill for most an hour. Yet even so, my fascination for this astonishingly beautiful as well as highly venomous viper grew as a result of the experience.
Building on the paradigm of a regional general natural history field guide that Kaufman originally originally established in the Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of New England, this second volume in the series takes up the flora and fauna of – as well as the geology, climate, and night sky as seen from – Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Although the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum officially opened its doors to the public for the first time on 28 April 2015, the full history of this extraordinary new museum in fact goes back in time for more than a century and a half.
Of all the creatures exemplifying Batesian mimicry, few are better known to naturalists than hoverflies. Looking for all they’re worth like bees or wasps, these harmless and beautiful little members of the diptera are fascinating subjects of study.
Now that – as my grandpa was fond of saying – the kitty is out of the burlap, I thought I should take a few paragraphs to explain my new forthcoming adventure. As some of you may have already learned, as of the first of March I will take up the position of product manager for sports optics with Celestron. Needless to say, I am absolutely delighted, as well as deeply honored, to have been offered this opportunity. However as it is a full-time position that will require a substantial amount of travel, the question has already been asked of me “what will become of The Well-read Naturalist.”
The Well-equipped Naturalist
I carry a bag when I’m in the field. I carry a bag when I’m running errands around town. I carry a bag more or less whenever I leave the house for anything more than to walk the dog or take my evening stroll. Ideally, so that I need not worry about being without some item of my essential kit as a result of switching between different bags for different activities, I very much prefer the bag I carry for all these diverse purposes to be the same bag.
Most every hunter or angler I ever met had every bit as deep an interest in one area of natural history of another as any other naturalist of my acquaintance. Indeed, were it not for such famous hunters and anglers of years past, we would not have some of the important collections in natural history museums that we do today.
While each episode of Palaeocast is a delightful sojourn in itself into the world of paleontology, I was particularly happy to discover that Episode 18: Trilobites devotes the better part of an hour to an interview with none other than Professor Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum.