BY ELIZABETH FIEND JUNK SCIENCE EDITOR I’ve been reading Wild Fruits, an unfinished, recently published manuscript by American naturalist Henry David Thoreau. The book is a combination of diary and essay, chronicling the ways Thoreau spent his days and what he learned during the final years of his brief life. With each page I get more jealous, wishing I too could spend my day stalking a bee to find its hive and to learn what type of flower the bee drinks nectar from and how that affects the flavor of the honey.
Of all the things I love to do (and I love to do a LOT of things) observing nature is on the top of my list. Fantasizing how I could manage to spend my days doing what Thoreau did, I realized my main stumbling block is that I’m just not as big of a mooch as Thoreau. Sure, he worked some in his family’s pencil factory (in fact, he “invented” the modern clay-and-graphite pencil). But he also spent quite a lot of time not working, crashing at his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house and living on, and off of, Emerson’s land.
I work full time at a library, not some of the time at a pencil factory. But still, I manage to spend quite a lot of time observing nature, especially the ecology of my South Philly back yard. There’s a lot going on outside, even in the midst of a large city. I actually start my observing while I’m still lying in bed each morning — If you listen to the sounds of the outdoors you can learn quite a lot, especially about the birds. In fact, I think I know more about what the birds in my ‘hood are up to than my human neighbors, whom I never see and don’t particularly want to hear. MORE