Nature Notes

11: It has always been interesting to me to learn about habits and techniques that humans and other animals share, like the example Coates gives of African termites “farming” fungus. Green herons  catch prey by baiting fish with things like pieces of bread or smaller fish, and frogfish use an appendage that looks like a tangle of worms in order to bait crustaceans and other fish (and that appendage grows back once it has been bitten off!). Some human inventions, like fishing, do not seem that separate from nature after all.

17: I have not really considered nature through a historical lens before, so I found Coates’ history to overall be very interesting and informative. I think he did a good job of addressing misconceptions (like how even primitive/basic survival skills such as building a fire, not just industrial activities, have environmental repercussions).

25-26: It was interesting to read about the civilizations that have fallen due to agricultural crises and to see that “modern problem” have really been happening for centuries. Since I have been learning about mathematical models in my Marine Biology class, I found an interesting paper that uses a mathematical model analyzing resource availability, capital, waste and production to explain why past societies have collapsed. One example includes the Mayan collapse as a result of overuse of the nutrient-poor soils in the Yucatan lowlands.

35: “The persisting Western tradition of the weekend cottage or lakeside cabin echoes the Roman search for respite from the stresses of city life, personal troubles and public office.” Growing up, my family and I went to my grandparent’s lake house every summer, and a few people in my neighborhood visited around the same area of Wisconsin every year as well. It is interesting to see where this tradition originates.

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Depiction of animal trials.

50-58: When Coates mentioned E.P. Evans’ book about the public hanging of animals, I was interested in reading it, and then I was shocked to find that animal trials actually occurred. Animals were subject to capital punishment for murder and exorcism and excommunication for property destruction. Given that the meaning of “paradise” today is usually connotative of open areas in nature, it was interesting to hear that the meaning of paradise is “walled enclosure,” like shady groves and hunting reserves, which shows how much the perception of nature has evolved over the years, and how culture and the media today can impact perceptions of nature.

76: The ethics of animal experimentation is an ongoing controversy today that I have been thinking a lot about since I have started taking advantage of research opportunities, and I found this article describing some history of vivisection and animal experimentation in England in the seventeenth century.

93: “Attempts to restore past environments may be psychologically soothing and emotionally satisfying but they are vainglorious and fatuous from an ecological standpoint.” Even by restoring past environments, present environments would be destroyed because nature is constantly changing. I think this brings the reader back to Coates’ earlier question: “And if change is the only constant in the natural world as well as in human society, where is the urgency or sense in trying to preserve in perpetuity something both relatively recent and likely to change of its own accord anyhow?” My perception of conservation is preserving present environments that are currently evolving due to human change, not by “their own accord.”

106-109: “Nature was a vital cohesive force in a country that lacked the glue of ethnic, religious and racial homogeneity” (108). It is interesting to see that almost all countries listed on this website have an animal as their national symbol, showing how integral nature is to culture.

Questions:

12: “One thing at least is certain: no human society has ever lived completely inside nature or outside environmental change.” Can individuals live completely inside nature?

41: “Images, myths and perceptions are worth studying, regardless of their accuracy as representations of the physical world.” Do you agree? Why or why not?

63: What do you think are the roles of God, man and nature?

86-99: Do you think there is one specific source of environmental degradation? Some blame Columbus, others blame agriculture (86), and some blame European imperialism and technology (99).

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