How to become a Naturalist
Toodyay Naturalists's Club Newsletter, April 2014
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HOW TO BECOME A NATURALIST
by Georgina Steytler
Chris and I recently went to Sicily on an archaeological adventure. Amidst a spring garden of wild poppies and daisies lay the marbled ruins of a once great coastal city of Selinunte. At its peak, around 400BC, it was home to around 30,000 Greeks. Whilst our tour group gasped and spluttered in awe, Chris took a photo. In the background is the crowning glory of Selinunte - the magnificent Doric columns of the Temple of Hera, which tower over the ancient acropolis from their perch atop a hill like sentinels that refuse to abandon their post . In the foreground is me, slightly hunched over, with my back to the temple, desperately trying to photograph a bright green lizard sitting on a rock.
That's when I knew I had a problem, if you can call an overwhelming love of our natural world a problem, that is.
Where others saw intricately mosaic-ed floors and carved marble statues, I saw the bobbing heads of sun -baking dragons, hyraxes scampering along crumbling walls, frogs croaking from crusader moats and hoopoes flitting from pillar to rock.
It wasn't always so. 15 years ago, I was a lawyer working in a private law firm where only two things mattered: billable hours and making a good impression with potential clients at Jazz and Shiraz evenings at the Kings Park Tennis Club. I was making good money and had a good job. I was, therefore 'a success' in the eyes of many. But I was not happy. Around that time I was diagnosed with major depression and spent two weeks at the Perth Clinic reassessing, among other things, what it took to be happy.
The realisation that happiness could come from learning to appreciate the natural world did not come straight away. It took a visit from a friend who did guided tours in the Amazon rainforest to open my eyes to the amazing world around us. He noticed everything and asked lots of questions. One day he asked, "What is that bird?" I looked over at a large bird on a flower. I took a guess. "It's a honeyeater". He said "it looks like a wattlebird to me". I looked again - and saw the two big red wattles dangling from the sides of its head. That's one to the Peruvian, zero to the Australian. Next came the trees. He would point to a tree and ask what is was called. I would look at it and take a guess. If it had red sap, I said it was a 'red gum', if it looked white-trunked, I said it was a 'white gum', if it looked pink, I said it was a salmon gum. It was the 'river gums' that proved to be the final straw. He accused me of making up the names. Though I may have been right about some of them, the reality is that I knew so little of my own country it shamed me.
In order to make up for it, I enrolled us in some free local bird walks which were run by BirdLife Australia around Perth. Since then, I have never looked back. Like so many others, once you have your eyes opened, it's impossible to shut them again.
And it's seriously contagious. By the end of our tour, other members of the tour group were finding me turtles and frogs and birds as if they too had had their eyes opened to the world beyond the ruins.
I am sooooo delighted that you got to find what was really important to you and to give up your perceived success to go with your heart. The resulting photographs are simply breathtaking. The beauty of your passion is that you will never run out of subjects, albeit they may take a little patience to "capture" or maybe that's one of the answers to the peace and joy it brings you.
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