Field Notes: A Glimpse Inside Great Explorers’ Notebooks
On the singular joys of observing nature firsthand, or the best way to draw a bilaterally symmetrical sphinx moth.
By Kirstin Butler
In our age of screens, pencil and paper have lost some of their cultural status, but a new publication wants to remind us of their value in recording and understanding our world.
Just out from Harvard University Press, Field Notes on Science and Nature is as much a scientific travelogue as a celebration of traditional methodologies for making sense of our natural environment. Full of beautiful reproductions of original journal pages, Field Notes takes us from Baja, California with eminent ornithologist Kenn Kaufman to the Serengeti with renowned mammalogist George Schaller.
In the words of the book’s editor, Michael Canfield (himself a biologist at Harvard), we can all “peer over the shoulders of outstanding field scientists and naturalists” through their brilliant annotations and illustrations.
The twelve essays in Field Notes were written by professional naturalists from such diverse disciplines as anthropology, botany, ecology, entomology, and paleontology, and their enthusiasm and experience are contagious. For the amateur naturalists among us, the compilation also contains essays on “Note-Taking for Pencilophobes” and basic instructions on color theory and sketching.
The simple satisfactions of mindfully documenting our surroundings are probably best summed up by E.O. Wilson, who penned the book’s introduction:
If there is a heaven, and I am allowed entrance, I will ask for no more than an endless living world to walk through and explore. I will carry with me an inexhaustible supply of notebooks, from which I can send back reports to the more sedentary spirits (mostly molecular and cell biologists). Along the way I would expect to meet kindred spirits among whom would be the authors of the essays in this book.”
Let Field Notes be your guide to seeing both the wonders of biology and your own backyard with new eyes.
Published May 18, 2011