My Name Is ...

Recently I'm reading more nonfiction (yes, even with resolutions to read what I already own because guess what? I own a lot of nonfiction), and I'm connecting with more "nature writers" on Twitter.

Aside: why do I dislike the term "nature writer"? It feels pejorative--dismissive. I prefer to think that a writer is a writer is a writer, and people who specialize in essays and fiction about the natural world are writers. The added specificity isn't necessary.

Hello! And suddenly what started as an aside is part of the point of this blog post. Because taxonomy--naming something, calling it by an established and recognized name--is important. (To me.) Yet recently, this lovely blog post by Melissa Harrison, a writer in the UK whose novel came out last year and who blogs about nature (among other things), has made me reconsider. Specifically, this part:

"Taxonomy is not an essential part of connecting with nature--far from it. Some people actively prefer not to put names to the living things around them, seeing it as an act of domination that creates distance, rather than closeness."

Since I moved to rural Thunder Bay, I've made learning the names of trees, animals, and birds an explicit part of the process of feeling at home, an early part of learning to be a worthy steward of this place. And it's an ongoing process--currently I'm trying to decide whether that thing we see occasionally is a wolf or coyote, a bobcat or lynx, a raven or crow. In winter, I get to figure out what's around by its tracks, which is its own kind of fun. Plus in summers we're seeing new kinds of waterfowl: teal and goldeneye in the past couple of years. For me, being able to distinguish between mallards and mergansers, or knowing whether that spot out there is a loon or a gull, remains important.

But now I'm also wondering about the drawbacks that come with my "need to name." As Melissa points out, assigning a name (or telling a story about an experience) gives the namer or teller a kind of power over the named or the experience. In the case of a story, that power might be positive. In the case of separating name from namer, perhaps not so much. And right up there is my discomfort with "nature writer": adding a specific descriptor to a general name is often unnecessary and can be belittling.

More pondering, and lots of reading of thoughtful writing, ahead.