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You don't need to be a scientist to enjoy nature.
It is raining. Autumn is very late this year, but not unwelcome. My first sight of it was just the other day, as I turned the corner while walking near my home in London to find a tree exploding with colour.
As I sat down to write this it occurred to me that my knowledge of trees is atrocious, which seems odd considering how important they are to life on earth. Shouldn’t learning about the world around us be high on our list of priorities at school?
I’m considering this a note to myself to spend some time learning trees beyond the few I can spot already - oak, silver birch - but you don’t have to memorise the taxonomies of plants to appreciate their beauty as the seasons shift throughout the cosmic cycle. Physicist Richard Feynman observed:
You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatsoever about the bird.
I like to remind myself of this and remember that appreciating nature does not require a PHD in biology. I performed terribly in science at school. In my very first parents’ evening, my teacher declared that “Tom is not a natural scientist.” Since then I have done nothing to prove her incorrect.
What I have done is prove to her that I don’t need to learn chemical composition of mulching leaves to know that walking on them on a cold morning is a lovely experience. I don’t need to understand the mechanics of how neurons fire in my brain to know that spotting a hovering kestrel thrills me.
When I was travelling on a sleeper train in Vietnam earlier this year, I met a local who advised that “if you tire of reading about Vietnam’s history in a museum, go to the art gallery and feel it instead.”
I thought this was a wonderful sentiment, and when applied to nature, a reminder to leave the science to the scientists. Instead I will continue to enjoy autumn in all its glory as it unfurls around me, and experience it with my own eyes and ears and touch. I will wrap myself up in the closing of dark nights and enjoy poetry and art and music inspired by fruitful harvests, golden landscapes and murmurating starlings.
It has stopped raining now, but before I leave you to enjoy your own autumnal weekend, let the poet Adelaide Crapsey welcome the November nights with her own words.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees