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Naturalists who enlighten, entertain and educate

Throughout history there have been individuals whose love of nature -- the rocks or plants or animals or air -- was the foundation of their work, their play and their relationships. These people, whatever their vocation or education, were "naturalists".

This section highlights some of the contributions made by these scouts on the pathway of exploring nature.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1749-1832

Goethe is best known for his poetry, drama and even songs, but his explorations in the natural sciences were his most heartfelt discoveries and contributions to his culture. He developed a lifelong process of studying nature around him and observing the form and function of plants, animals, mountains and even the weather. He found respite in nature as well as inspiration for many of his literary works, and he contributed several discoveries to the scientific field, including a mineral, a bone, a plant growth process and a still-misunderstood theory of color.

"If we want to reach a living perception of nature, we must become as living and flexible as nature herself."

The Goethian approach is "seeing nature whole," and is explored today at the Nature Institute. You can learn more about their work at http://natureinstitute.org/nature/index.htm


Rudolf Steiner

1861-1925

Steiner was a deep thinker who has inspired many people to look for a deeper, spiritually grounded undeerstanding of the world. His lectures and ideas are the impetus behind Waldorf education, Camphill villages, biodynamic farming, and numerous other community endeavors. Trained as a scientist and philosopher, Steiner edited and provided commentaries for the first edition of Goethe's scientific writings in the late 1800s. He saw goethe's phenomenological approach as an antidoe tot he one-sided materialist approch to science in his day. The Nature Institute also has information about Steiner in their programs and their website: http://natureinstitute.org/about/who/steiner.htm


Charlotte Mason

1842-1923

CharlotteMason.tripod.com/nature.html

Charlotte Mason was a British educator and an observant woman. As a teacher, she spent much of her life watching children learn, and drawing, from her observations, many of the same conclusions we home educators draw today as we watch our own children learn. Nature study was a must for Charlotte's students, and for those she influenced in their homes. She believed that children should be outside with a parent for 4-6 hours per day when they are young, and that older children (12 and up) should have at least one full afternoon a week devoted to outside activities. Meals should be taken out of doors, when possible. "Never," she writes, "be within doors when you can rightly be without." Today, at Charlotte Mason College (now part of St. Martin's College), the study of outdoor education can earn you a master's degree.


Sigurd Olson

http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/JMC//Olson/theology.htm

1899-1962

A college dean and canoe trip outfitter named Sigurd Olson promoted wilderness. Olson was driven, he wrote, to help "keep the faith alive, give people something to hold to, something to fight for that is bigger than politics, bigger than the problems the world is constantly facing, something in the way of a philosophical concept that lies at the root of any happiness the race can find." Olson's wilderness epiphanies, or flashes of insight, provided the soil out of which his philosophy grew; they gave him a sense of purpose at a time when he did not know what to believe, and an intuitive grasp of the answers that he later found affirmed in the writings of such people as Lecomte du Nouy and Teilhard de Chardin.

Love was the most important element in Olson's environmentalism. "There can be no real, lasting land ethic without love," he said.47 But Olson's idea of love went beyond the anthropocentrism common to both Christian and humanistic world views. While he often spoke of stewardship, a concept that is based in love yet implies human domination over the rest of nature, his essential philosophy went deeper: "What civilization needs today," he wrote, "is a culture of sensitivity and tolerance and an abiding love of all creatures including mankind."


John Muir

1838-1914

http://www.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/

John Muir (1838-1914) was America's most famous and influential naturalist and conservationist. He has been called "The Father of our National Parks," "Wilderness Prophet," and "Citizen of the Universe." He once described himself more humorously, and perhaps most accurately, as, a "poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist etc. etc. !!!!" John Muir has been a role model to generations of Californians and to conservationists around the world. He taught us to be active and to enjoy -- but at the same time protect -- our parks, our beaches, and our mountains.


Rachel Carson

1907-1964

http://www.rachelcarson.org/

Rachel Carson, writer, scientist, and ecologist, grew up simply in the rural river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. Her mother instilled a life-long love of nature and the living world that Rachel expressed as a writer. She published her study of the ocean in two books: The Sea Around Us, and The Edge of the Sea. These books read like a biography of the ocean and made Carson famous as a naturalist and nature writer. She also wrote articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty of the living world, including "Help Your Child to Wonder."

Disturbed by the use of chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson warned the public about the long term effects of misusing pesticides. In Silent Spring (1962) she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way people viewed the natural world.

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction."


Edward Abbey

1927-1989

http://www.abbeyweb.net/

Through his novels, essays, letters and speeches, Edward Abbey consistently voiced the belief that the West was in danger of being developed to death, and that the only solution lay in the preservation of wilderness. Abbey authored twenty-one books in his lifetime, including Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang, The Brave Cowboy, and The Fool's Progress. His comic novel The Monkey Wrench Gang helped inspire a whole generation of environmental activism. A writer in the mold of Twain and Thoreau, Abbey was a larger-than-life figure as big as the West itself."

"I am a redneck myself, born and bred on a submarginal farm in Appalachia, descended from an endless line of dark-complected, lug-eared, beetle-browed, insolent barbarian peasants, a line reaching back to the dark forests of central Europe and the alpine caves of my Neanderthal primogenitors." -- from "In defense of the Redneck", Abbey's Road.


Florence Merriam Bailey

1863-1947

An American naturalist, Bailey was one of those rare individuals who was both a scientist and a romantic naturalist. In her early years Bailey was active in the crusade against feather hats, and we see her nature appreciation work at Smith College and Washington society. On the scientific side, as sister to C. Hart Merriam and as wife to Vernon Bailey, pioneers of the U.S. Biological Survey, Florence Bailey was an explorer of the American West, and her many expeditions provided material not only for her technical Handbook of Birds of the Western United States (1902) and her Birds of New Mexico (1928), but for dozens of travel and life history accounts in the popular press. Ample quotations from Bailey's writings give a vivid picture of the early West, and make it easy to understand why her works were appreciated by both professionals and amateurs.


John Burroughs

1837-1921 http://www.johnburroughs.org/ Nature edged into his essays and ultimately became the dominant theme. Wake-Robin was published by Hurd and Houghton. Endnote3 It was the first book in which the familiar Burroughs, the writer of essays about Nature, was distinctly present. It was the first in what eventually became a set of 23 volumes of collected essays, the last three of which were published posthumously. Subject matter of the 23 volumes is not limited to Nature, though it is the dominant theme. Philosophy, literary criticism, and travel are also to be found in good supply.


Gilbert White

1720-1795 Gilbert White was a pioneering naturalist, regarded as England's first ecologist, who recorded his observations of nature drawn from life, rather than from knowledge gained in laboratory by examination of dead specimens. His own notes were supplemented by an exchange of letters with Thomas Pennant and Daines Barrington, two friends who were also naturalists.

His careful studies, from 1765 covered a wide range of natural history subjects around the parish. He detailed the flora, and the habits and lives of the local mammals, birds and insects. He published the collected work of about 20 years in a book in 1789, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne. His book is available from Project Gutenburg as an e-text. Gilbert White: The Natural History of Selborne .


St. Francis of Assisi

1182-1226

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06221a.htm Founder of the Franciscan Order, born at Assisi in Umbria. His habit of courtesy became his trademark. "Whoever may come to us", he writes, "whether a friend or a foe, a thief or a robber, let him be kindly received. Animals found in Francis a tender friend and protector. And the early legends have left us many an idyllic picture of how beasts and birds alike susceptible to the charm of Francis's gentle ways, entered into loving companionship with him; how half-frozen bees crawled towards him in the winter to be fed; how the wild falcon fluttered around him; how the nightingale sang with him in sweetest content, and how his "little brethren the birds" listened so devoutly to his sermon by the roadside that Francis chided himself for not having thought of preaching to them before. Francis's love of nature also stands out in bold relief in the world he moved in. He delighted to commune with the wild flowers, the crystal spring, and the friendly fire, and to greet the sun as it rose. St. Francis's "gift of sympathy" seems to have been wider even than St. Paul's.

He found in all created things, however trivial, some reflection of the Divine perfection, and he loved to admire in them the beauty, power, wisdom, and goodness of their Creator. He saw sermons even in stones, and good in everything. Moreover, Francis's simple, childlike nature fastened on the thought, that if all are from one Father then all are real kin. Hence his custom of claiming brotherhood with all manner of animate and inanimate objects.

No reformer, moreover, was ever, less aggressive than Francis. He strove to correct abuses by holding up an ideal. He stretched out his arms in yearning towards those who longed for the "better gifts". The others he left alone. And thus, without strife or schism, God's Poor Little Man of Assisi became the means of renewing the youth of the Church and of imitating the most potent and popular religious movement since the beginnings of Christianity. No doubt this movement had its social as well as its religious side. That the Third Order of St. Francis went far towards re-Christianizing medieval society is a matter of history.


Florence Merriam Bailey 1863-1948 Bailey dedicated her life to observing and protecting bird life and recording the wonders of the natural world. She became one of the foremost women writers of her era and traveled for 50 years studying birds.

By 1885, she began to write articles focusing on protecting birds. She was horrified by the fashion trend which not only used feathers, but entire birds to decorate women's hats. Five million birds a year were killed to supply this fashion craze. Scientists, concerned about the killing of birds for millinery ornaments, had formed the Committee on the Protection of North American Birds. Determined to help, Florence organized The Smith College Audubon Society.

The onset of tuberculosis after college sent her west to convalesce. After a winter in California to improve her health, she and her mother joined her brother, C. Hart Merriam, for a trip by tugboat to the northwest in 1889. He planned to study the small mammals at Neah Bay, at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

At the young age of 26, Florence collected and developed the series of articles she had written for the Audubon Magazine into her first book, Birds Through an Opera Glass, which was published in 1889. She refused to assume a man's nom de plume as was common for women writers at that time. Her independent ideas came through in her writing.

Among her firsts, Florence became the first woman associate member of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1885, its first woman fellow in 1929, and the first woman recipient of its Brewster Medal in 1931, awarded for Birds of New Mexico. She was a founding member of the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia and frequently led its classes in basic ornithology. Her last major written work was Among the Birds in the Grand Canyon National Park, published by the National Park Service in 1939. A variety of California mountain chickadee was named Parus gambeli baileyae in her honor in 1908.


Henry David Thoreau

Text of Thoreau's works can be found at: http://pantheon.cis.yale.edu/~thomast/texts/index.html "Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants."


Theodore Roosevelt

An article written by Theodore Roosevelt "In the Louisiana Canebreaks" can be found at: http://pantheon.cis.yale.edu/~thomast/texts/cane/cane.html


Terry Tempest Williams

"If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go.... This is the story of our past and it will be the story of our future."

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