Does this happen to you? …. I get a warm fuzzy every time I see that stack of field guides on my bookshelf:
This has me thinking about what sparked my interest in biology and more specifically, natural history. A lot can be attributed to my childhood – which was idyllic. I grew up in Lakefield, Ontario, and spent a lot of time playing in streams, old fields, and forests, and summers always included canoeing and camping. I recall, from a very young age, that my father would always point out ferns, mosses, trees, birds, dragonflies, etc. After pointing out these plants and animals, he would then proceed to pull a field guide out of his backpack and together we would flip through the pages and learn about what we were seeing. My father was not fixated on any one group of plants or animals, and his collection of field guides reflected this. Sometimes he would bring along a guide to birds, other times it would be for mosses and ferns. It didn’t matter which one he happened to bring along – they were all amazing.
Now, as an entomologist/biologist, and as someone with a career in the field of natural history, I can say with confidence that this exposure was really important. Although my father had the most significant influence on my interest in biology, I do think that the field guides played a role in sparking my passion for natural history. The field guides opened the door to a world of diversity, and allowed a young boy to recognize a variety of sophisticated concepts about species: white pine trees are widely distributed and they looks similar (but not identical) to other species of Pinus, some butterflies are common while others are rare, the common loon is only around in the summer because it migrates, species have many names (including one that is difficult to pronounce, and that has two parts to it). A field guide is a treasure-trove of dense, concise and attractive biological data, and ‘real’ field guides help children appreciate biodiversity to an impressive level of detail. I think this is why part of my proposal for a ‘backyard biodiversity project‘ included the purchase of authentic field guides.
We can learn a lot from field guides, and I am a little concerned that the digital age is changing the way people interact with “guides” to nature. Mobile apps, and other on-line tools are wonderful (e.g., the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification) and provide access to a large audience, but they don’t allow for the tractable hands-on process of flipping through a guide without an agenda and without focus. The physical process of using a field guide allows you to (accidentally) learn about species that you may not have otherwise searched for. Having a variety of field guides on the bookshelf, and out on the coffee table, can really spark an interest in natural history and potentially change someone’s life.
I am very keen to hear other stories about field guides… do you attribute your own passion about natural history to a past connection with field guides? Please share your experiences!
(you can comment, below, and/or use the hashtag #fieldguides on Twitter)
Thank you, Dad.