Sunday, March 21, 2010
Christopher Morley, The Unnatural Naturalist
There are other troubles that spring brings us. We are pitifully ashamed of our ignorance of nature, and though we try to hide it we keep getting tripped up. About this time of year inquisitive persons are always asking us: "Have you heard any song sparrows yet?" or "Are there any robins out your way?" or "When do the laburnums begin to nest out in Marathon?" Now we really can't tell these people our true feeling, which is that we do not believe in peeking in on the privacy of the laburnums or any other songsters. It seems to us really immodest to keep on spying on the birds in that way. And as for the bushes and trees, what we want to know is, How does one ever get to know them? How do you find out which is an alder and what is an elm? Or a narcissus and a hyacinth, does any one really know them apart? We think it's all a bluff. And jonquils. There was a nest of them on our porch, we are told, but we didn't think it any business of ours to bother them. Let nature alone and she'll let you alone.
But there is a pettifogging cult about that says you ought to know these things; moreover, children keep on asking one. We always answer at random and say it's a wagtail or a flowering shrike or a female magnolia. We were brought up in the country and learned that first principle of good manners, which is to let birds and flowers and animals go on about their own affairs without pestering them by asking them their names and addresses. Surely that's what Shakespeare meant by saying a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. We can enjoy a rose just as much as any one, even if we may think it's a hydrangea.