16 Apr 2008

This blog's future: more systematic, more, well, sciency, I suppose.

(This post is much more wordy than usual: for this month's crop of naturalizing, scroll down.) For the past few months I've been looking at Runswick Bay with reopened eyes. I spent three years at university studying zoology, and over the past few years have been pondering whether or not to 'get back into' science. This is partly the result of association with blog colleague Nunatak, who arranged a tour around the spirit room of the Natural History Museum where I saw pickled giant squid, a coelacanth (an improbable, inexplicable ambition achieved) and some original specimens collected by Charles Darwin during his time on HMS Beagle.

I would have kicked the Holy Grail itself into the gutter and breezed past it's shattered remains to see such things, and in the intoxicating atmosphere of the spirit room, then seeing Nunatak's lab and her starry science I had a flicker of yearning for the 18 year old who went into Liverpool University wanting to be a proper scientist.

Nah. I didn't have the patience, the maths for the sciencin' or the application to do it then, and I don't now. I'm and point-and-wonderer by nature. I do however, have a love of my local North Yorkshire beach, a digital camera and thanks to Blogger the ability to inflict my observations on the world.

After six months walking the beaches with a little more of a purpose than before, looking closer, I've decided to get more systematic on its ass about things. My aim is to (over the years) record all the natural and pre-history I can find here. I sometimes look at a rockpool, at a seaweed covered boulder and get the staggers at just how much is going on, what there is to be identified, what relationships there are. One of the few things that grabbed my interest at university was parasitology (thank you to the lecturers and demonstrators of 03Z0, Liverpool University 1984-5), and I know that for each crab, whelk, ratfish and anemone there must be at least half a dozen other critters making a living off them.

Currently I'm working on big visible stuff: I've just got a microscope, and I mean to use it. There are a lot of niches? environments? to be naturalized: rocky shores, sandy shores, ice age boulder clay cliffs, Jurassic shale cliffs, sandstone rockfalls, inland scrub and a disused clifftop railway track for when I'm fed up with wet knees and blue fingers onthe beach. Many people spend a professional lifetime specializing in a nichelet in any one of these niches. Well I can't do that level of expertise or detail, but I can record what's here now, do some rummaging in the records for what was here in the past and maybe provide some data for future scientists and enthusiasts to use.

And I mean to resurrect my old field biology skills such as they were: transects will be placed, quadrats thrown, specimens recorded in more rigorous detail than my current slack-jawed 'looker that!' manner. There will still be plenty of that, of course, as fossils are found, flowers come into bloom, seaweed fascination grows on me like an epiphyte and strange bug-eyed fish wash up at my feet.

My immediate plans are to write a simple field guide for holidaying kids and families, and offer guided beach walks to help fund this newfound field/beach amateur science project (although if anyone wishes to endow me to carry on this work, all philanthropic offers offering to equip my field centre and provide a modest salary may be addressed through the email link in the sidebar. I promise not to go Steve Zissou-esque mad and demand submarines - a simple, modest research boat will suffice).

Well, I have spent five years looking at this Bay with a history that starts around 190 million years ago, and thought someone really ought to make it their life's work to study this place. No-one else having stepped forward, I'd better get on with it.


nunatak said...

How exciting, Peter. You are always going on about 'larval scientists' and now *bang* here you are professing to be a larva your very self! Excellent. Your ideas for guided walks and a natural history education programme are stellar. And the field guide: yes! I recommend taking a couple of courses at the Field Studies Council. I took "Using a flora" last year - it was a lot of fun and I learned oodles about identifying British plants. They offer courses on just about everything you've mentioned here.


Lastly, thanks for the kind words about my 'starry science' - is that what it looks like from the outside? Seriously, if I had even the smallest thing to do with your renewed interest in science, well then that just makes my day!

P.S. Math is overrated.

Elke Watts said...

Woo hoo! Applause from peanut gallery!

Michael D. Barton, FCD said...

I wish you the best, Peter, in your new endeavo[u]r, all the more a wonderful reason to read this blog along with The Beagle Project.

Richard Carter, FCD said...

So, the cat's out of the bag. Really looking forward to your future posts: Runswick Bay is one of the few blogs that I always read carefully, rather than skimming through.

Good luck with the book.

P.S. Maths is not overrated. But it's also not science.

nunatak said...

Fair enough, Richard. What I meant was that it's overrated in terms of how important it is as a prerequisite for biology. I did well in math but for the life of me I do not know why I was required to have advanced calculus for my biology degree.