The trials and tribulations of writing a nature column

I’ve been an avid naturalist for 50 years – started seriously learning about the world we live in when I was about 10. At that time, I lived in Germany and had a father who loved camping, the out-of-doors, long walks – he called my attention to everything natural and wondered out loud what it was or what it was doing. So began a life-long obsession with understanding what nature is all about.

A little background: I now have a Ph.D. in vertebrate zoology – specifically studying herpetology, especially in the Neotropics. As a result, I spend a lot of time on tropical biology, but have spent zillions of hours walking coastal marshes and swamps along the Gulf Coast. I’ve been fortunate to travel to and study nature on all seven continents.

I was also fortunate to be the founding director of the Louisiana Nature Center and employed for a while by the Audubon Nature Institute and the Cypress Swamp Tours.

It still boggles my mind at how much I still need to learn, how little I understand. Every single day (and night) I expand my natural history horizons. I love every minute of it and truly appreciate that there is still so much fascinating information to learn.

That said, it is often frustrating to author a natural history column such as Nature Notes. Why? Because as a biologist, I know that every statement I make has exceptions, and most of what we “know” will soon change as new information comes available. I regret that it is impossible to equivocate on every statement, naming all the exceptions to the statement. If I did that, 1) I would either cover little ground, 2) write impossibly long stories, and/or 3) lose the general public who would be terribly frustrated, confused, and bored.

I also know that there are lots of readers who have much more knowledge on a certain topic (whether a field of study or an individual species), and they often contact me with corrections or inquiries. I value those contacts as much as any other form of education, and always appreciate their correcting my course of sharing information about Mother Nature’s treasures.

Before Nature Notes was in its present format, I wrote similar columns that have appeared in a variety of publications (The Times-Picayune, Louisiana LeVant, and others).  Excellent, well-meaning copy editors, usually unknown to me, sometimes edited my written word into something other than factual, and they frustrated readers knowledgeable about science who always seem to think that I don’t understand simple things like the necessity to italicize and properly write scientific names (yes, I send them italicized, with genus capitalized and specific epithet not, and somehow they often appear otherwise).

So, send me your comments, as I will always learn from your suggestions and forever appreciate your help.  Now, go for a nature walk!