An “interview”

American Copper
American Copper

A few days ago I was tagged by Clare at The House & Other Arctic Musings with an interview meme. Though I typically don’t participate in memes because they’re usually out of keeping with the theme of the blog, Clare carefully tailored his questions to his five tag-ees to reflect the nature (pun intended) of their blogs. I thought some of my readers would enjoy reading the responses, too. Of the others Clare tagged, Dave (Via Negativa) and Susannah (Wanderin’ Weeta) have also answered.

The “rules” of the meme are to answer the five questions provided by your tagger, then create five of your own and tag five new people of your choosing.

Orange Hawkweed
Orange Hawkweed and Star Chickweed

1) You seem to have an intense curiosity of the natural world, how did that curiosity come about?

I don’t think there was ever a single epiphanic moment where I suddenly developed an interest in the natural world, but I can’t say that it was always there, either. I grew up on five rural acres, set on the Niagara Escarpment of southern Ontario, which is still largely dominated by natural habitat, so I was surrounded by nature and I certainly had some knowledge and appreciation of it. I enjoyed being outside, but I didn’t have a deep-rooted interest in anything further until much later. I took a specific interest in birds when I was in university, hooked by a summer job I did, and that led to paying closer attention to butterflies and dragonflies. Moths came later still, beginning initially as a side diversion during some delays with a work contract. It really wasn’t until I started up this blog that I really began looking more closely at everything and anything, though – and realized just how fascinating it all is.

Mink Frog
Mink Frog with Water Shield

2) What would you change about your home, your neighbourhood, your corner of the world? What one thing would you change to make it a better place?

I think the best thing that can be done for any corner of the world is to curb population growth. We’re already too many people (doesn’t matter where you go, there’s too many people there already), and we certainly don’t need any more. All of the local issues – for instance, habitat destruction for development or infrastructure improvement or whatever else – pretty much stem from that larger umbrella issue. That said, there isn’t much I would change about the area of eastern Ontario where I live now – it’s pretty much perfect the way it is. More natural habitat in the non-Shield areas, perhaps (the rocky, thin soil of the Canadian Shield has protected it from much development, fortunately).

Eastern Chipmunk
Eastern Chipmunk

3) Describe your most profound encounter in the natural world?

Oddly enough, after a great deal of thought pondering all of the many encounters I’ve had with nature, the moments that have moved me most deeply have had little to do with wildlife. Two encounters stand out in my mind: the first involved this arbutus on Vancouver Island, BC,
Carvings on live arbutus
and the second was this beech not far from our home last year.
American Beech, Fagus grandifolia
The two species of tree share the same sort of smooth, cool bark that tends to evoke feelings of serenity tinged with melancholy in me when I lay my hand on it. I wrote about the latter tree above in a post I titled “The Living Trees“, and I said: “I don’t generally tend to anthropomorphize other organisms, but unlike many other trees, when you lay your hand on their trunk mature beech trees feel alive, they feel like they have a soul. I walked home after a few introspective moments with my hand on the tree’s cool trunk, humming the main refrain of The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond:

Oh, you’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye
For me and my true love will ne’er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

Just remembering the encounter with that tree, or the arbutus the year before that, brings about those same emotions. They were neither the largest trees in their forests nor, likely, the oldest; the arbutus showed the scars of many pocketknife blades, but the beech bore none. What was it about these two trees? I don’t know. Perhaps it was the time of the month when my emotions are most vulnerable anyway, but something about them spoke to me.

Water Shield
Water Shield

4) If you could have a conversation with any person in history who would it be, and why that person?

I thought the previous question was tough, but this one’s harder. I thought through many famous names in the world of nature: Charles Darwin, of course, but also Henry David Thoreau, Alfred Russell Wallace, John James Audubon, Aldo Leopold, Emily Carr, and a few people still alive such as Robert Bateman. Finally I decided I’d like to have a conversation with my paternal great-grandfather, Bruce Everton Leckie, born 1882, died 1943. All I know about him is written in the family tree section of the Leckie clanbook. There, it notes, “A leading science master and educationist in Ontario, Mr Leckie’s avocations made him known as a naturalist and a sportsman particularly in game and fishing circles.” His last home before he died was a farm on the north end of Guelph, the town where I went to university, and he’s buried in the cemetery there; he only owned the farm for a year or so, but had planted 9,000 trees there in that time, and had stocked the stream that cut through his land with trout. Apparently he taught science in high school, and had spent some time at the school in Smiths Falls, the next town over from Perth. Although I don’t hunt, at the time when he lived, and especially when he was growing up, many naturalists would still tote a gun under one arm and much of the foundation of our understanding of wildlife comes from dead specimens.

Going back even farther, I would also be interested to converse with my great-great-great-great-grandfather John Leckie, who immigrated to Canada in 1821, settling on 100 acres here in Lanark County given to him by the Canadian government. Dan and I went to see the original homestead last summer. I know nothing at all about him, but even just listening to how life was trying to eke out a living from the thin soils of the rugged but beautiful Canadian Shield would be, I’m sure, fascinating and eye-opening.

Garter Snake
Garter Snake, hiding in the mud in a puddle

5) What advice would you give to anyone wanting to better experience the natural world?

If you want to experience the natural world – truly experience it, that is, not just live in it – you have to slow down and look around. Too often when we’re hiking there’s a tendency to push on, follow the trail, walk for the purpose of having walked and not for the purpose of having seen. We may enjoy the forest we walk through, or the meadow, but when we reach the other side of it can we remember the details of what we just passed through? Did you notice if those evergreens you walked by – you did notice the evergreens, right? – were fir or hemlock or spruce? Did you spot the woodchips at the base of the tall maple where the Pileated Woodpecker had been working on a dead branch high above? How about all those rocks in the meadow, freshly flipped over where a bear has been hunting for ants and grubs? Somebody’s been munching on the milkweed leaves – did you check underneath, to find the fuzzy orange-and-black caterpillar? Sit here at the edge of the creek and watch a few moments – that dragonfly seems to be doing laps up and down the bank, patrolling his territory, and definitely has a favourite perch where if you stand really still and be patient, you might be lucky enough to get a great photo. But if you simply walk along the trail, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the natural scenery but not really looking at anything, you’ll reach your car at the end of the patch having taken nothing much away from the hike except a pleasant hour spent outdoors.

Leopard Frog
A very large, very brown, long-legged, sparsely-spotted Leopard Frog who's recently been residing in our swimming pool.

I like Clare’s selection of questions, and so I’m going to recycle them. I’ll tag Ted (Beetles in the Bush), Jason (Xenogere), Eric (Bug Eric), Tom (The Ohio Nature Blog), and Jennifer (A Passion for Nature) with the meme (none of whom should feel obliged to do it, however), since it says to pick five, but think it would be interesting to hear answers from anyone who wants to participate, so feel free to join in too!

1) You seem to have an intense curiosity of the natural world; how did that curiosity come about?
2) What would you change about your home, your neighbourhood, your corner of the world? What one thing would you change to make it a better place?
3) Describe your most profound encounter in the natural world. (Or most memorable.)
4) If you could have a conversation with any person in history who would it be, and why that person?
5) What advice would you give to anyone wanting to better experience the natural world?


Memes and memoirs


I completely forgot about daylight saving time being today. Fortunately, it’s Sunday, and there was nowhere we had to be this morning. In past years, daylight saving has taken place in April, which is after the start of the field season, so if you slept in accidentally, you’d have volunteers waiting for you to show up at the research station. This works out better.

I was tagged yesterday by Wrenaissance Reflections to participate in a meme that’s been circulating some of the blogs I read. I don’t participate in a lot of memes usually, but the ones that are novel or interesting can be fun to do.


The word “meme” (pronounced “meem”) was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene (which I’ve actually read, for a university course). In it he describes the idea that natural selection acts at the level of the gene (or the phenotypic manifestation of the gene, anyway), rather than the whole organism, and that a gene favoured by natural selection will be passed on whether or not it’s in the best interest of the organism (hence the idea of a “selfish” gene). He used the word meme to describe a cultural unit that propogates itself socially, in a manner like that of genes, in that it’s replicated from one individual to the next through speech or action, with interesting, practical or generally strong ideas or trends catching on, and weaker ones “dying out” and going extinct. Factors that influence the survival of genes, such as mutation, variation and competition, also affect the survival of memes.

Dawkins created the word from the Greek mimeme, meaning to imitate, and shortened it to sound like “gene”. He gave as examples things like tunes, clothing fashion, manufacturing techniques, new words and current buzzwords, cultural beliefs, etc. The idea of a meme as an online game or task passed between friends wasn’t within his original focus, but it does fit his definition, and these days the word “meme” has come to refer to these things. I suppose, as a kid, in the days before the internet got big, those chain letters or postcard projects you’d get in the mail with threats of bad luck should you break the chain were another form of memes.

Wikipedia has a lot of info on memes, and it’s an interesting read. Certainly there’s more information there than I can present in a short blog post.


Anyway, back to Wren’s meme tag. The current meme in question was started by BookBabie, after she read a book review of a memoir and her husband suggested she should write one (a memoir, not a book review). She commented that her memoir would be much too short, but later stumbled on a book called Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. The book is based on a story that Hemingway once bet he could sum up (his life? a fictional life?) in six words, which he did with “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The idea appealed to BookBabie and she started up the meme, which has really caught on, favoured by the natural selection of cultural pressures that Richard Dawkins has described. Proof of this is in the fact that I’ve never heard of BookBabie before following the link in the meme back to her blog, and yet here I am, doing her meme.

The rules, faithfully copied-and-pasted from blog to blog as the meme gets passed along, are as follows:

1. Write your own six word memoir

2. Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like

3. Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4 .Tag five more blogs with links

5. And don’t forget to leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

Dog-strangling Vine

I had to give this a lot of thought, and I checked out a number of other people’s 6-word memoirs while doing so. Bookbabie’s was “This too shall pass, I hope.” Wren, who tagged me, wrote, “Cynicism and enchantment coexist within me.” Jennifer of A Passion for Nature wrote, “She never cared much for sun.” Beth from Beth’s Stories wrote, “Happy mom loves to climb mountains.” Ruth at Nature Knitter wrote, “Knitting and nature rock my world.” You can keep tracking them back to the taggers, or spend quite a lot of time reading the comments and trackbacks on BookBabie’s original post.

As far as my own tags, a lot of the blogs I follow have already posted their own 6-word memoir. However, I don’t think Nina of Nature Remains, Mary of Mary’s View, Susannah of Wanderin’ Weeta, or Carolyn at Roundtop Ruminations have played yet, so to these four, and anyone else who’d like to – tag, you’re it… but only if you want to!

Red-spotted Purple

I had come up with a half dozen and actually settled on a take-off from Hemingway’s classifieds-themed one at first: Lost: curious heart, answers to Nature. So much of my life and my interest is wrapped up in the outdoors and nature that you can sum a lot up in that. But, it’s not the whole me, and I wasn’t completely satisfied with that. There’s more to me that isn’t touched upon by that statement. My creative side, my artwork and need to work hands-on. My desire to share my knowledge with interested people and the enjoyment I take from that. Also, aspects of my personality. Those who know me in person know me to be a very quiet person, shy at times, independent and often a bit of a loner. But if you get me talking on a subject close to my heart, I can open right up. I’m good at hiding my shyness, usually, and am friendly and open with people, and I love to share things and teach interested people.

A Quiet Song

I was reading a completely unrelated website when something within it sparked a thought. And so I wrote this, which I think sums me and my life up nearly completely:

From deep within, a quiet song