Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What does "the Naturalist's Angle" really mean?

This post was inspired by the "River Damsel" of the "Adventure in Every Riffle" blog and the Outdoor Blogger Network. I have to give credit where credit is due.

My blog title came very naturally for me... get it?

I guess some of this explanation will stem from how I came to call myself a naturalist in the first place. Maybe I should define the word "naturalist" first. I have already expounded on the word "angle" in my very first blog post, so no need to repeat all that.

A naturalist is:
  1. one that advocates or practices naturalism
  2. a student of natural history
  3. a field biologist
The first definition doesn't apply to me so much... and, no, it doesn't have anything to do with walking around "au naturel"... or as we say in the south, "neck-ed." The other two definitions are why I call myself a naturalist.

I've recently taken notice of the many "master naturalist" programs being offered by state natural resources agencies, much like the "master gardener" programs that are so well known. Do I think the "graduates" of these "master naturalist" training programs are really naturalists? Some may be, some probably not. I don't know that you can condense a lifetime of experiences in nature into a 12 step program. I'm glad to see that there are enough people interested in the natural world to justify having such programs. On the other hand, I feel like my "training" as a naturalist has been a lifelong love affair with nature that could never have been taught in a class. For me becoming a naturalist isn't just about memorizing the names of trees or butterflies, it's about the experiences that can only be had in nature. Truthfully, I learned most of what I know from books, but my experiences in nature drove my desire to learn more.

It started when I was a small child and my mother would show me "woolly bear" caterpillars in the flower bed and cicadas hanging on the bark of the oak tree in our back yard. My mother sparked my interest in the natural world very early on, and it has grown steadily to this day. My mother is no biologist nor is she a naturalist herself. She just took me outside and shared the simple wonders of nature with me during my developmental years. She didn't really know all that much, but she offered what she knew and it has made a world of difference for me. This is something way too many children are missing in their lives today. Hence, the vast majority of today's youth suffer from "nature deficit disorder"- a term coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. Interestingly, Mr. Louv also wrote a book entitled Fly-Fishing for Sharks... but I'll save discussion about that for another day.

In elementary school I was the kid who picked up the insect instead of trying to squish it under my shoe. In high school I had friends who called me "nature man." In college I majored in biology, and my career interests have always been related to animals and nature. All my life, I have wanted to turn my passion for nature into a career, and I have had the pleasure of doing that for at least part of my professional life.

During college, I began spending a lot of my time in the natural world at night. I am more comfortable in the dark than most people, and some of my most memorable experiences in nature have taken place in the dark of night. For example, getting to see and photograph things like this:

Yellowbelly Watersnake consuming a Bullfrog


As a result of my love affair with nature at night, I probably know more about flashlights than the average person. (If you ever need any advice about a good flashlight feel free to ask.) In addition to learning a lot about flashlights, I came up with a possible title for my memoir when I write that sometime down the road. I thought I would call it "The Nocturnal Naturalist." I thought that was pretty creative.

It turns out there are already two somewhat obscure books published with this title: The Nocturnal Naturalist by Kelvin Boot (1985) and The Nocturnal Naturalist by Cathy Johnson (1989). I immediately hunted down copies of these books when I learned of them. So Kelvin and Cathy beat me to it... but neither of their books are what mine would be... so I might still use it one day. Cathy didn't seem to mind borrowing the title from Kelvin, why should I? To be completely honest, I was a bit disappointed with both of the books they had labeled with "my" title.

My title... stolen before I even thought of it.

"The Naturalist's Angle" may not be as creative as I thought my future memoir title was, but I think it fits my blog well. In truth my blog title is pretty straight forward, and probably didn't need so much explanation... but maybe you know me a little better now.

My naturalist tendencies are what drew me to fly fishing over fifteen years ago, and fly fishing has become my most regular activity as a naturalist. I imagine my perspective on things as a "fly fishing naturalist" isn't much different from that of most other fly fishers. I think the very nature of fly fishing requires a fly fisher to use the skills of a naturalist. I guess what separates fly fishers from ordinary naturalists is the equipment of fly fishing and the ability to cast a fly line. Perhaps not all "students of natural history" would make good fly fishers, but I firmly believe all good fly fishers are inherently naturalists.


  1. As an Owl, I can appreciate the whole "night thing." I'm ok at night, except for when I have to leave the tent at 4 am in black bear country for a bathroom break. Then, all the flashlights in the world might be enough. Might. ;)

    btw - down here in GA, if you say you're a naturalist you might get confused for someone who runs around...err..."nekkid." ;) Hey, we're rednecks, what can I say.

  2. Sounds like you and I have had similar beginings. My Mom & Dad are not naturalists (my Mom was a RN for 30 yrs) but they introduced me nature at an early age and this greatly influenced my career choice (currently I do Lyme disease research) and how I spend my free time (fishing and nature observation). I am already trying to introduce nature to my kids and instill the beauty and wonder that comes with it.

  3. Owl, things aren't so different in TN. I'm careful to only discuss being a naturalist around people who will know what I'm talking about.

    Kiwi, thanks for the comment. It's always nice to find kindred spirits.

  4. Observing nature is what brought me into fly fishing...I am really enjoying your posts and this explanation of your blog name was very informative for everyone, I'm sure! That's why I started all of this...heehee.

  5. Holy bemoly the snake scared me. I know it is so silly to be scared of them, but man they give me the heebie jeebies!

    I came with a question about the moving fish fiasco. We've lost almost all our fish from the 150 gallon; the pet shop isn't sure what's happening, but we suspect there might be a bully in the tank and they don't have the room to hide like they do when our tank is set up at home. We have african cichlids. Tonight we are putting them in styros with aeration and in front of a heater vent. What we are curious about it is how to keep them warm during the drive tomorrow. All the fish are going to be in the cab of the Penske truck, but we aren't sure how to keep the temp at 76. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks, Jay.


  6. Oh... by the way... I'm a bit of a herpetologist. I actually like snakes. Did I forget to mention that?

  7. Addendum: I like to fish in the winter when I figure there aren't any snakes around...Now don't burst my bubble and tell me they are still there)!! That bullfrog pic is pretty gnarly...

  8. Snakes are hibernating in winter for sure... the bats on the other hand are endothermic (warm-blooded)... and waiting for Howard.

  9. Poor Howie and those darn bats...I think that he is bowling this winter.