Sunday, January 30, 2011


To See Clearly

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (March 5):
Not only seeing what we look at—accuracy of observation—but truth in conclusion is a first obligation of a naturalist. To see clearly where others observe inattentively; to see familiar things sharply in all their details where others see only generalities or indistinct, mentally out-of-focus objects; to note correctly what is taking place; and then to interpret accurately all that is seen—this has seemed the goal, in a way the lifework, of certain writers in the field of nature, such as Gilbert White and Henry Thoreau. Thoreau went about noting just how the trees look when the wind ruffles their leaves, exactly how the hawk mounts in the air, precisely how the spring flowers spread their petals.

This exactness of personal observation in a world of hurried, unseeing glances is a thread that runs through the work of the best of the succeeding generations of nature writers. When John Muir started his thousand-mile walk to the Gulf in the wake of the Civil War, his botany professor at the University of Wisconsin offered him a copy of Virgil's poems to take with him. Muir declined. He said he wanted to see nature freshly and exactly and through his own eyes.
Related post: Seeing Things.

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