By Jessie James, Gaia Intern
Here at UCSC we have an incredible resource right at our fingertips. We live on a natural reserve, something that most people never have the opportunity to do. As such, we should appreciate every moment we have in this beautiful redwood forest ecosystem barely a mile from the ocean.
Given our amazing campus, there are many opportunities to learn about natural history. Natural history is the observation of the world around us, in whatever form we feel most comfortable with. If you have ever found yourself wondering about some aspect of the natural world, you are an unwitting naturalist. Unlike many titles, being a naturalist does not require extensive schooling or preparation, it only requires an open mind and an interest in learning about the world.
I received my introduction to natural history through the natural history club. This quarter, the club is led by Kaleb Goff, a senior at UCSC majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I had the privilege of asking Kaleb some questions about the study of natural history, and its importance today, and was immensely rewarded by his insights into that world.
One of the unique aspects of natural history is that it is study of the natural world, but it is not an exclusively scientific discipline. As lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov stated, there must exist “a high ridge where the mountainside of scientific knowledge joins the opposite slope of artistic imagination, where the precision of poetry and the art of science can meet”. This opens up natural history to any person with the slightest interest, engaging everyone and anyone who comes across it.
Natural History is not only a way to explore the world around you, but a way to view yourself in a different light, and see how you connect to the world we came from. To get started, all you need to do is, as Kaleb Goff puts it, “…find your gateway organism”. He adds, “To be connected with the more-than-human world is to be healthy, mentally and physically. Moreover, it helps me connect with other humans, nothing builds connection and community better than a week in the field.” Natural history, while being ultimately about gaining an understanding of the world around us, brings us closer together as people.
It is of incredible importance that more people discover and become interested in natural history, because, despite its relevance and importance, it is not something that is widely known or taught. According to Kaleb, this is because, “In western academic biology, [the study of natural history] has been obscured by the molecular revolution … the knowledge gained from molecular biology has blinded many scientists and students (working primarily indoors in laboratory or computer settings) of the importance of the study of natural history in a rigorous scientific way, and has created a gap in our universities in training students in natural history, organismal biology and observation. This gap in university-level naturalist education is a scary one, and perhaps something that we are beginning to realize and correct.” While Molecular biology is a vastly important field of study, it cannot make up for what there is to be learned from the natural world. Kaleb states that natural history is essential to most scientific fields of study, especially ecology, and enables scientists to better understand and conduct their research.
However, natural history is just as important to students as it is to professors and scholars. “The study, awareness and recognition of the world around us through the recognition of natural history can bring each and every person more contentment, happiness, awe, wonder and curiosity in their daily lives. Understanding the ecology and natural history of campus can also radically influence that amount to which we feel inspired scientifically, artistically, socially and politically.”
UCSC has many excellent resources for students to get involved in natural history, among them are the Ken Norris Center for Natural History and the UCSC Natural History Club along with UCSC Recreation Department and the UCSC Arboretum, which also offers naturalist programs and courses. So if you feel so inclined, check these out! Get your questions answered, learn more about the world around you, I think you will find it worth your while.