By Saul Weisberg
North Cascades Institute
(reprinted from The Best of CLEARING)
I love knowing the names of things. It makes them familiar, like old friends. I also love to look at patterns in nature. Veins on the back of a vine maple leaf. The yellow and black scales on the wing of a two-tailed tiger swallowtail. The striations in a piece of greenschist. The patterns of nature show us the details of life where the wonder lies.
The landscape is made up of details, too. The ways things fit together — the interactions of living and non-living things — tell a story. In order to make sense of larger patterns, in order to recognize them in the first place, you have to know the details. You have to be able to look at the pieces and pick them apart, understand what this thing is, why this lives here and not there, why things work the way they do, and what has changed over time.
The distrust and ignorance of science that is prevalent in society has made inroads in environmental education as well. It is not unusual to see eager and competent educators with master’s degrees in EE who have no knowledge of natural science, and who are unable to identify common birds and plants. These educators tend to focus on two things: the experience of teaching in the outdoors and the big picture — important processes and concepts. But somewhere between the experience and the process we lose touch with the thing itself — the organism and its world. (more…)