Between Order and Mystery
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
Nature really is chaotic. The real myth is the one that the Natural History Museum promotes in its collections and in its family trees and genealogies. The real myth is the myth of order.
Interestingly enough, earlier this week one of our podcast listeners alerted us to a New York Times article by Carol Kaesuk Yoon that adds another perspective to the naming and ordering of nature. While Prosek’s words lament a loss of nature’s magic to the rigid confines of Linnaean classification (named after the “father of taxonomy” Carl Linnaeus), Yoon’s essay mourns the loss of popular interest in taxonomy:
In Linnaeus’s day, it was a matter of aristocratic pride to have a wonderful and wonderfully curated collection of wild organisms, both dead and alive. Darwin (who gained fame first as the world’s foremost barnacle taxonomist) might have expected any dinner-party conversation to turn taxonomic, after an afternoon of beetle-hunting or wildflower study. Most of us claim and enjoy no such expertise.
And, she relates this loss to a divestment from the natural world:
We are so disconnected from the living world that we can live in the midst of a mass extinction, of the rapid invasion everywhere of new and noxious species, entirely unaware that anything is happening.
I find it interesting that these two perspectives on taxonomy can seem completely at odds, while at the same time come from the same sense of wonder in the face of the nature. Perhaps these two viewpoints evoke a need for balance: without some system of naming we’re limited in our ability to understand the natural world, but pin everything down too neatly and we lose the life that makes nature so attractive and — as Prosek might say — mystical.
(image: A plate depicting the characters used in Linnaeus’ classification system, from Order from Chaos: Linnaeus Disposes.)
The Fastest Pitch-to-Interview Ever
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
It’s been a hectic several weeks around SOF, with various staff vacations and Krista traveling to New York in mid-July for an event at the Council on Foreign Relations and her moving in to a new home. So, before she hits the road again, Colleen made an appeal to the staff for a guest Krista could interview by the end of the week.
Somewhat hesitantly, I sent an e-mail containing a brief pitch early Monday morning:
Over the past five years, I’ve had ample opportunity to grab a few volumes from the dead books pile. The most memorable one was snatched during the first month of my tenure in 2003 — back when Tippett and Farrell shared the top of a file cabinet. And, to boot, it was a story about fly-fishing (Fly-Fishing the 41st Parallel).
I don’t fly-fish, but he makes me wish I did. Here’s a brief sketch.
James Prosek tells stories and ruminates about life through the lens of angling. His appeal to me is that the ritualistic act of fly-fishing serves as a meditation on place and self, on people and the world around us, on our communion with nature, on art, on home and the necessity of leaving it. Yet, I don’t sense an agenda or a lecturing, didactic man.
He’s in his early 30s, has a somewhat soft, pubescent voice (which I find endearing) and has published nine books — his latest a work of fiction. He writes and talks about trout in such intimate ways that he gives me a sense of the importance of solitude and contemplation.
For Prosek, fly-fishing serves as a way of crossing class boundaries. He won a Peabody and an Emmy for his film, The Complete Angler. Watch the first chapter to gain a better flavor of his voice and sensibility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwZAR4mJEa8.
NPR produced a 12-minute piece with him as part of their Creative Spaces series: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3622503. What does he mean when he talks about “creation is the act of playing God?”
He’s a wonderful artist who illustrates in the style of James Audubon. Although he’s renowned for his portraits of trout, he currently has a series “Life & Death–A Visual Taxonomy” exhibiting paintings on birds in various states of life (quite reminiscent of J.A.): “The boxes conceptually reference how man tries to fit nature into neat little containers through collecting, naming, classifying, and cataloging.”
He’s also partnered with the founder of Patagonia in a conservation effort called the World Trout Fund: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpx_fsMRkYs.
By the time we had our staff meeting at 11 (Krista hadn’t read the e-mail yet), I did a quick 60-second recap. I got a fair nod from Colleen and Kate, and Krista gives the go-ahead to book the interview.
So, here we are, just minutes before 3 p.m. Central and Krista will be talking to James Prosek from the studios of WSHU at Sacred Hart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I hope it’s magic, and I’ll be uploading some video of the interview in the coming days!