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cord between aboriginal artists, who produce works for function and power, and collect-
ors who buy and display them for strictly aesthetic purposes. Her analyses suggest the
Pecos River panels served adaptive roles for small-scale foragers by facilitating commu-
nication and, via drugs derived from peyote cactus and other plants, as portals to their
spiritual world. If these ancient representations aren't art, she concludes, we need a
more flexible and inclusive concept of that term.
Even as Fate Bell Shelter shored up my confidence in the notion of field biology as
art, I recalled some of the world's oldest paintings, discovered in 1994 in a French cav-
ern and made more than thirty thousand years ago. They include astonishingly accurate
renderings of animals, and in one of them a Pleistocene cave lion, with evident scrotum
and lacking a mane, walks crouched beside a smaller female—typical courtship beha-
vior, as carnivore expert Craig Packer noted upon viewing the Grotte Chauvet murals.
For whatever reason, the ancient cave painters accurately recreated what they saw for
others to contemplate, and in so doing left us the earliest recorded examples of nature
study, rivaling those of “the best naturalists of our own era.” 26 Boyd's Pecos rock art
commentary and Packer's analysis of the Chauvet images convinced me that science
and art have sometimes literally been one and the same.
It's time to admit that my final vertebrate natural history lecture didn't fully answer the
student's question about life's meaning, to step farther out on that philosophical limb.
Many biologists find no necessary conflict between science and religion, although some
are convinced the former can answer everything, while others are born-again zealots.
I'm inclined toward the first group, out of parentally ingrained tolerance and because
there remains the vexing matter of how did it all start? On that last count, as my writer
friend Chuck Bowden says, science still comes up a few bricks shy of a full load, and
I've simply walked away from the question, plodded on through Ugandan rainforests,
Mexican barrancas, and Brazilian cerrados. Like Ben Dial, Henry Fitch, and Ed Abbey's
mountain lion, amid doubts, failures, and catastrophes, I'll never bawl over my soul.
Besides, those wily Texas alligator lizards are waiting in Hill Country ravines, and I've
got some new snake projects down that way too.
One might still ask, though, isn't there more? In an indifferent cosmos, are there
grounds for hope? We are in an increasingly tight spot, our quality of life, even our exist-
ence, threatened by climate change, pollution, extinctions, wars, starvation, and pesti-
lence. The state of the Earth looks ever more dismal; there are way too many of us con-
suming way too much, and unless we effect major changes the consequences will be dire
for many species, including us. Besides reducing greenhouse gases, connecting habitat
patches, and better managing our food, water, and energy consumption, we desperately
need to get people into the wild—even if, for some of them, only in ways that are timid
by Jack Turner's standards. In a world of seven billion people, many wretchedly poor
and starving, hitching our hopes for nature to exclusionary ideals is dangerously coun-
We must encourage engagement with nature, especially among urban youth, through
activities like photography, bird watching, fishing, hunting, and wildland gardening—a
term coined by tropical biologist Dan Janzen for conservation in human-dominated land-
scapes, especially when practiced by locals. 27 As far as revealing previously unknown
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