The world’s first Naturalist?

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Have you heard of Alexander Von Humboldt? I hadn’t until I read Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander Von Homboldt, The Lost Hero of Science. Long subtitle aside, the biography opened my eyes to this scientist who really was born before his time.

How did I never hear of him despite all the places, plants and animals named after him – the Humboldt Glacier, Humboldt penguin, Humboldt squid, Humboldt Current…?

Or the fact that he influenced notable scientists and thinkers of the day including Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, John Muir…?

Or that his many travels – including climbing Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador – experiments, learning, studying and immense memory brought so much information about the environment to us.

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Or his view of nature, combining poetry and emotion with science, focused on the interconnectedness of the world.

His vision was called Naturgemalde, a ‘painting of nature’, which illustrates nature as being interconnected. When Humboldt learnt a new fact – and he discovered many during his lifetime – he connected it with other aspects of the natural world.

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”Individual phenomena were only important ‘in their relation to the whole” for Humboldt.

Temperature, climate, humidity, atmosphere, animals, plants… instead of focusing on one topic, Humboldt would look at them all. Instead of studying one mountain and that’s it, Humboldt would link any information gained to other mountains across the world. His interdisciplinary scientific logic partnered with an artistic, poetical view of nature, resulting in engravings and artwork to accompany scientific findings.

Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian family, he lived at a fascinating time in history, of revolutions, war and turmoil. He met most of the most famous people of the time, such as Simon Bolivar and American presidents, and travelled extensively to Russia, South America, Europe and the US. He also managed to fit in writing several influential books.

Despite all this, what I found most impressive about this German scientist was his insight into the ecosystem and how humans were affecting it.

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Alexander Von Humboldt

Wulf writes: ‘Humboldt was the first to explain the fundamental functions of the forest for the ecosystem and climate: the trees’ ability to store water and to enrich the atmosphere with moisture, their protection of the soil, and their cooling effect…He also talked about the impact of trees on the climate through their release of oxygen’.

‘The effects of the human species’intervention were already ‘incalculable’ and could become catastrophic if they continued to disturb the world so ‘brutally”.

As Wulf says later on, ‘Humboldt’s views sound alarmingly prophetic’.

A man ahead of his time indeed.

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The cover of Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature

The Invention of Nature – The Adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt, The Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf

 

 

 

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Flashback: A wildlife garden in August

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Simon’s garden is the opposite of neat and manicured – and this is all for the better as it is a shared garden, used by both locals and residents living further away. And these users – birds, insects, reptiles, butterflies and mammals – appreciate his garden, coming back to feed and drink, or living there quite happily. I’m rather envious of this as my garden doesn’t attract quite as many different species as Simon’s. Woodpeckers, blackcaps, wood warblers, goldfinches, greenfinches, frogs, blackbirds … these are just an example. So he took me on a garden tour and gave me tips along the way. We did this in August so a lot of colour had unfortunately gone, but there were still many good ideas.

The front garden

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Sink pond in the front garden, which is often used by garden birds having a ‘bath’.
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Valerian has been used as a medicinal herb since at least the time of ancient Greece. It is usually used for sleep disorders, such as insomnia.

 

 

The back garden

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Verbena. According to the Wildlife Trust, there are around 250 species of verbena. They are very useful plants providing nectar for butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
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Sink garden. At the top there is a gap caused by a plant dying in the 2018 summer drought, (even rock gardens need watering but due to the high drainage it’s difficult). There is also thrift, small leaves of thyme and a red campion seedling (weed that can be moved). Middle right, are stonecrop and thrift. Dominating slightly are the silvery leaves of dianthus (Latin name) in the middle bottom. There are a few ox eye daisies dotted around.
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Water butts capture rain water which can then be used to water plants. Very handy, especially in a drought. A water butt is something I keep meaning to buy.
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Buddleia, echinacea, crocosmia and evening primrose
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Crocosmia, valerian and red campion
Above left, black Niger seed attracts goldfinches. A plastic bottle prevents rats, mice and squirrels from climbing up. Above right, a plant pot collects leftovers from peanuts. Often birds can be found in the plant pot, enjoying their breakfast leftovers!
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The main pond, with frogbit on the surface and wormwood in the foreground. At the back, behind the stone turtle, is a frog hideaway. Simon has three ponds altogether – two in the back garden and a small sink pond in the front, often used by birds for washing.
A visitor and probable resident – woodpecker and frog. Simon has rescued tadpoles from elsewhere on a couple of occasions, when the water levels have dropped because of the weather or the pond has become stagnant. They lived in a second hand aquarium in his house until ready to move into the garden pond.
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Nest boxes in an old tree. Several birds have lived – and reared their young here – over the years.

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Fig tree
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Flower of Kent apple tree. This is the variety of apple Isaac Newton saw falling to the ground in 1666 – and inspired his theory of gravity.

Facts of the Day

1. The single easiest way to add wildlife value to a garden is to install a pond. It doesn’t matter how small. Consider adding a plank of wood to help any wildlife that might fall in.
2. If you want to grow vegetables, it’s best to stop using chemical pesticides. These upset the natural balance and can be lethal for wildlife (and not just the ‘pests’. 
3. A compost heap is an essential for a wildlife garden. It cuts down the waste sent to landfill and provides a habitat for a number of insects – which can be a good food source for hedgehogs and other animals.
(Facts from The Wildlife Trust: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/gardening)

Rang-Tan: Greenpeace launch animated story to raise awareness of the story of dirty palm oil — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Originally posted on Life & Soul Magazine: Greenpeace has hit out at big brands including Unilever, Nestlé and Mondelez for their role in deforestation for palm oil, by launching a powerful animation that shows how orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction due to the palm oil crisis. The short animation, voiced by English…

via Rang-Tan: Greenpeace launch animated story to raise awareness of the story of dirty palm oil — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

I know that the above was posted nearly two months ago but unfortunately the topic is still relevant. I’ll write about my own personal thoughts on this worrying issue at a later date, but for now, here’s an article about the Greenpeace campaign earlier this year.

Dreams and Adventures