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Life on 200 Words a Day
Natural History
You can’t put a pleasure like the sight of a redwood or the smell of a September rain in your pocket. For that, we have the National Audubon Society field guides, those lanky, leathery tomes that snuggle in your hands like soft bricks of nature’s Who’s Who. Of themselves the guides’ subjects should be fascinating only to their fans. Reptiles and Amphibians. Birds. Trees. Rocks and Minerals. Weather. Wildflowers. The Night Sky. African Wildlife. Fossils. We generally take those things for granted. They don’t exist unless we make use of them. The guides subvert that assumed purpose. The things exist only because they exist. In those books their existence becomes individualized. “I coil,” goes the trans-pecos rat snake, “therefore I am.” It’s not that one should agonize over the difference between barite and axinite, between a bristle-thighed Curlew and a long-billed Dowitcher, between northwest and arroyo willow trees. But it’s impossible not to be made a citizen of every guide’s world the moment you crack open its mantle, to marvel at the Cambrian-like explosion of life all around us, its utter lack of self-consciousness, of demands, of pretension. Even inert minerals, bark, cumulus clouds seem so alive in the context of earth’s gifts. It should be impossible not to realize what meager spectators we are to it all, or ought to be. Impossible not to remember, too, how quickly we are fossilizing these wonders, how these guides to natural history could one day be, merely merely and criminally, history books.

L.D. Amabed Jr.

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