Naturalist definition, a person who studies plants and animals as they live in nature
Since I was little I've felt rather in awe of people that were able to tell me names for things in nature. It was as if they were speaking a language I had yet to learn, another way of seeing a butterfly or a mushroom, a tree or a moss. There is something incredibly fascinating about knowing what you are looking at, to know you're looking at a peacock butterfly or turkey tail mushroom, an oak tree or a type of hair moss.
Don't get me wrong, I love spending time in nature and observing things without knowing exactly what I'm looking at. There are a lot of things that I don't need an explanation for, but it's a different experience when you start to learn names for plants, insects, lichen and fungi. The diversity of names and words to describe them is a wonderful world to delve into.
Here are a few ways I've been learning to satisfy my inner naturalist:
Go for walks and go regularly, preferably even the same place at least once a month to spot the changes occurring more easily. Stand still more and focus on your surroundings. Try counting all the different things you see and you'll soon realise there is a lot you don't have a name for. Yes it can get a little overwhelming, but focus on one thing at a time. Recognise what you're most curious about, which things catch your interest most. Perhaps you're curious about a specific tree, a mushroom or a moss. That's how you start, you slowly identify the things you'd like to be able to name in the future.
Learn to identify things and take it slowly. The first hundred names will be the most difficult to learn. I can't tell you how many times I've felt frustrated at a mushroom or myself for not being able to find out its name. Nature guides aren't always straightforward and simple. In some cases you have to learn a whole bunch of terms describing a moss before you could even think about identifying a specific one. The language of a naturalist is like any other language, learning it takes practice and repetition.
Document the things you learn in your own way. Perhaps you like taking photographs, drying plants or drawing them. A nature journal could help you keep track of what you're learning. It's very much like learning vocabulary, so try to make it fun! Go out journaling with friends, collect things together and enjoy the time outside.
Read lots of books on the natural world and stay curious! There are many ways to be a naturalist, so invent your own if you like.
Here are a few books that might be helpful:
- The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell
- The Practical Naturalist by DK Publishing
- The Naturalist's Notebook by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright
- Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie
- The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
- The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane
- Intuitive Herbalism by Nathaniel Hughes
If you'd like any specific nature guide recommendations (e.g. moss, lichen, plants etc.) comment below and I'll let you know the ones I like best.