Friday, 30 November 2012

Dining with Naturalists/Part Two

I'm hoping that the following five guests will bring a nice balance to the table.

Thomas Bewick.  I think it only right that I have one or two local naturalists along and I’ve chosen Thomas Bewick as one of them.  As a youngster I don’t ever remember having been told about Thomas Bewick.  Mind you I don’t remember being told much at school at all about the natural world (or those involved with it).  I’m not so sure things have changed very much even today, although I do think young people are generally more aware of the environment.   I do think Bewick led a fascinating life and I like his prints.  I believe even to this day there are those in most fields who like to have control of information (and think they have a right to) and the science/natural history arena is as prone to this as any other.  I believe very strongly that everyone is entitled to information and it should not be withheld unless there is a very good case to do so.  What Bewick did with his prints was to perhaps for the first time, ensure that the wonders of nature were available to many more people in printed form.  Until then it seems cost inhibited the majority owning such things and therefore sharing the available information.  I get the impression that Bewick didn’t travel very much and have recently read that he didn’t even visit the Farne Islands and relied upon birds being sent to him from collectors.

James Alder.   James Alder died in recent years and I often think of him as a modern day Thomas Bewick.  He’s the third member of the dinner party that I have met and another local man.  In his case, I’ve met him on a number of occasions.  James will certainly keep the conversation going as I remember being with him on one occasion when for three hours he told me of his life story.  A very good artist, James used to spend time as a youngster on the Tyne drawing/painting wildlife and local scenes having been let out of school by a headmaster who had recognised his talent.  A fascinating gentleman, who worked with Royal Worchester Porcelain for some time as senior consultant sculptor of birds and flowers.  His conversation will be varied and I know he was a good friend of Yehudi Menuhin the violinist.  James introduced me through his TV appearances to my favourite UK bird species, the Dipper.  I understand that it was James Alder’s careful study of Dippers that showed that it was often not the nictitating membrane of the bird’s eye that was seen flashing across the eye, but instead it was actually the white feathering around the eye which often confuses people.  I know James travelled quite a bit, but to me it is his careful studies of birds and other wildlife, which may seem common to some, that I remember him most for.  That’s the type of birding I advocate too.  In his later years James was commissioned by both Queen Elizabeth 11 and Queen Mother to produce books of the Birds of Balmoral and Birds of the Castle of Mey.  He also became President of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

John Kirk Townsend.  I did think of inviting American artist James Audubon along but to be honest what I have read about the guy makes me suspect that at least some of his fame was built upon the backs of others, so instead I’ve chosen a man closely associated with Audubon, and that is John Kirk Townsend.  Townsend was an enthusiastic ornithologist.  He was native to Philadelphia, but crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River in 1834 and also made two visits to the Hawaiian Islands.  He found ne wspecies and no doubt saw species on on the Hawaiian Islands that today are extinct.  He returned with a massive collection of bird and mammal specimens which where used by James Audubon in his preparation of Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds.  It would be good to hear from Townsend about his experiences in North America at that time in its development.  The book John Kirk Townsend written by Barbara and Richard Mearns describes wonderfully the travels of Townsend and is much more than a book about birds.

Peter Scott.  Son of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Peter Scott was amongst other things an artist, naturalist, conservationist, broadcaster and writer.  I remember rather vaguely from childhood a TV programme that Peter Scott presented.  I’m trying to recall the name of it.  Was it called ‘Look?’  Yes it was, and low and behold some  film clips can be seen here   Perhaps best known now for founding the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, he was also Founder Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund.  I remember as a youngster looking at prints of Peter Scott’s paintings of geese, never thinking that I would see such things.  I’m pleased to say since then I have on many occasions and have visited Islay (an area which Peter Scott said was the best place in Europe to watch geese) to watch Barnacle and White Fronted Geese.  As a young man Peter Scott was a wildfowler until he decided that it was better to shoot with a camera and paint and conserve wildfowl.  Of course he won’t be the only person at dinner that frequently used a gun!

Alexander von Humbolt.  Thirty years before Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humbolt travelled in South America on one of the greatest scientific expeditions of the nineteenth century.  Darwin held the man in great esteem.  The trip included the first scientific exploration of the Amazon by Europeans.  Now I must admit to not knowing too much about Alexander von Humbolt but I’m going to make the effort to find out a lot more about him.  It’ll certainly be good to discuss with him his travels in South America during which he mapped out much of the area.  I think there will be a few at diner who wish to thank him!

So if I have added up correctly that is my ten guests.  I’m sure you have noted, not a twitcher amongst them!  Sadly I have had to miss many off the invite list.  Three who nearly made it were Joseph Banks, Georg Steller and Jacque Cousteau.  I’ll have to see how this dinner goes and maybe have another at a later date.

Now I’ve decided to add just one more person to the list.  Yes I know I said no one else could come, but I’m making an exception.

Samuel Hood.  Yes it’s my trusted naturalist friend Sam.  Not quite as experienced and esteemed as the other guests as yet, but there is nothing to say he won’t be in years to come.  Anyway I’m sure the other guests, being the people they are, would find it a great privilege to pass on their experiences to a young naturalist and also to look at some of his photographic images after dinner.  I know Sam will be more than able to hold his own in the conversation around the table.  So you’re in Sam and if the others don’t turn up we will go birding instead.

I think I best order the large Cod and plenty of tartar sauce.  There will be plenty of chips if any of the guests are vegetarian.

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