When asked, most of us define ourselves by our occupation. At various times I've been a farm hand, garbage man, salesman, worm-picker, youth counselor, writer, clerk and manager. I'm leaving out quite a few because I don't want this thing to get too boring while we're still in the first paragraph.
Some folks define themselves by their relationships: father, mother, brother etc. I'm still a father and brother but it's not the usual answer when someone asks what you do.
"Oh, I'm a brother of five and father of two. You?"
See what I mean? Kinda awkward.
For much of the last couple years I wasn't sure how to define myself in a nice, neat, occupational manner.
Even though my book's still in print and selling reasonably well, I haven't written anything for publication in ages, so "writer" felt kind of wrong. "Retired" wasn't quite right either.
A few weeks ago, as I crept around the circumfrence of a pond trying to spot a bullfrog nearly perfectly hidden by dense weed growth, the answer occurred to me.
I'm an amateur naturalist.
(To avoid any confusion, a naturalist is one of those people who enjoys nature while still fully clothed. Unless it's really hot, when bathing attire may be called for.)
I did a little research (spelled "G-o-o-g-l-e") and found that one needn't have a science degree or even background to be a naturalist. Indeed, amateurs from Rothschild to Roosevelt have contributed greatly to the storehouse of knowledge gleaned via the study of the world around us.
All the job requires is noticing stuff. More or less. And maybe making a note or two. Suddenly, I realized why Yogi's statement about observing a lot just by watching resonated so deeply within me.
In a way, I suppose I've always been a naturalist, though I spent my first few decades specializing in fish and their habitat. Stupid me. I figured that only made me a fisherman. "Naturalist" sounds way more professional.
I've broadened my field of study now to include whatever flora and fauna happen to be in my field of view. I've quite happily spent a lot of time the last couple of years studying dragonflies, ants, tadpoles, bees, birds and other critters. I've read books, watched hundreds of hours of nature programs and visited the blogs and websites of other nature nuts.
I'm pretty darn sure my meandering and mulling isn't going to contribute much to the lore accumulated by my more distinguished peers. No matter. I ain't in it for the glory. My reward is the tiny "aha" of learning something I didn't know the day before.
For instance, while watching hummingbirds feed from our feeder at the cottage, I noticed, when the sun's angle was just so -- that hummingbird poop glistened like a tiny diamond. I noticed one male bird in particular who claimed our feeder for his own use and chased off any and all pretenders. He always fed from the same part of the feeder and I'd seen his tiny, glistening excretions several times.
After one such visitation, I decided to check the floorboards of the wooden deck which lay five feet (1 1/2 metres) below the feeder. I wanted to see what an accumulation of hummingbird poop looked like. Any naturalist worth his salt would be interested in something like that.
I squinted. I checked to see that I was indeed directly under the area where the hummingbird usually hovered. I took off my glasses and got on to my hands and knees. I rubbed my eyes and squinted harder.
Nuttin'. Nada. Not even a discoloration of the wood.
Obviously, hummingbirds are magical. Even their poop is so ethereal, it evaporates before it hits the ground.
Maybe I'll contribute some useful info to the cause after all.