Biology Reference
In-Depth Information
ence writer Doug Peacock's field time with grizzlies and the Kalahari San people's re-
lationships with lions 21 —all of which I admire—but fails to admit anything like jaguars
that prey on forest Indians and reticulated pythons that attack Philippine hunter-gather-
ers, 22 or prairie rattlers that bite hapless children and kill beloved hunting dogs. Most
folks simply won't tolerate dangerous creatures over the long haul unless we effectively
face up to their deadly potential.
Despite my misgivings, a wonderful irony emerged as I absorbed Turner's account
of a pathetic Asian zoo where, after watching visitors toss seeds through cage bars at
a mountain lion, he flies into a rage and is physically restrained from throttling a man
teasing the cat. Ben Dial would have done the same, I thought to myself—and in the next
moment I realized that Ben would have loved this topic. He would have brushed aside
its arrogance, admired Turner's unabashed dogmatism, and forced me to acknowledge
the admirable values underlying what I still see as narrow-minded and smugly critical.
I turned a few more pages and found a faded yellow charge slip, squinted at the tiny
blue print, and was brought up short by the date: I'd bought TheAbstractWild the night
before I flew to southern California and reached my old friend hours before he died.
Ever since then, with a nod to Ben's memory, I have recommended Turner's brilliantly
provocative tome to students.
Rock art also played a role in the third gift, a topic by anthropologist Carolyn Boyd
that rescued me from the awkward task of justifying my subtitle. I'd started thinking
about art and science as I left Texas for a Ph.D. at Tennessee, when Bill Pyburn handed
me an essay by Gunter Stent. 23 The Berkeley molecular biologist claimed that those two
endeavors are fundamentally similar, pointing out that although anyone might have un-
tangled DNA, elucidation of its structure in a particular manner reflected the specific
quirks and talents of James Watson and Francis Crick. This was an act of collective cre-
ativity, and something in the whole enterprise was theirs. 24 At about the same time I
began to recognize that as a field biologist I was discovering and conveying facts about
nature as well as clarifying my own life. Observing, describing, and interpreting—the
practice of natural history—amounts to expressing realities as I perceive them, in pub-
licly and privately rewarding ways. That in turn sounds a lot like what painters, musi-
cians, and poets are doing.
Scientists to whom I've mentioned Tracks and Shadows' s subtitle have said they
liked the sound of it, whereas artist friends were skeptical about linking field biology
with their craft. I'd arrived at my summer writing retreat correspondingly insecure,
wondering if I could penetrate a dense literature on the meaning of art and mollify their
concerns. Soon after I met my landlord, though, he urged me to head out to Seminole
Canyon State Park and Historic Site, seventy-five miles west of Fort Clark, and learn
some archeology. I made a mental note to do just that, stopped in a bookstore, and with-
in a few hours was delighted to find that Carolyn Boyd's Rock Art of the Lower Pecos
had eased my way. 25 Her task was to interpret paintings at five sites clustered around
the confluence of the Pecos River and Rio Grande, left there by Archaic hunter-gather-
ers more than three thousand years earlier; in so doing she ran head-on into the ambi-
guity of “art.” I figured that seeing some of those paintings firsthand, with Boyd's ana-
lysis fresh in mind, would help me better understand the problem.
Fate Bell Shelter is upstream from Boyd's sites in Seminole Canyon, and on a swel-
tering July morning I followed a park ranger into the gorge, thence midway up a dark
Search WWH ::

Custom Search