My cabinet of curiosity is unorganized, but as a reminder of nature’s diversity and beauty, it is just fine.
I returned from a recent trip to Florida with a bucket full of curiosities, mostly collected from the ocean, things mostly strange to Idaho. My eclectic assemblage included a variety of seashells, a few bits of coral, a piece of sponge and several apple snail shells. To my chagrin, three horseshoe crab exoskeletons, abandoned when their owners shed them for larger suits, didn’t survive two weeks of getting shoved around by luggage.
All of my new treasures are destined for already bulging shelves stacked haphazardly and somewhat hazardously, with a dusty collection that includes bark, seeds, bones, skulls, rocks, shells, feathers, eagtags, leg bands, a tiny elk fetus preserved in alcohol, and owl pellets, to name just some of the items. All meaningless bio-junk to anyone else, it is a priceless natural collection to me.
My collection follows a long line of much more impressive collections that began in the seventeenth century as entertainment for gentlemen explorers. From overseas trading and exploration voyages, they brought home strange and interesting objects of natural history, geology, archaeology, history and culture to share with those at home.
As the hobby grew, practitioners began to display their booty in cabinets especially designed for them. They became known as Kunstkammer, Wunderkammer, cabinets of wonder or cabinets of curiosity.
The importance of these collections may be lost today when technological advances allow few corners of this planet the courtesy of untrammeled anonymity. Modern discoveries of necessity must dive ever deeper into the inner workings of molecular, atomic and subatomic scale.
In sixteenth, seventeenth and even eighteenth centuries though, much of the world was yet to be explored by Europeans. Everywhere explorers and traders traveled they encountered the new and the strange. Virtually every expedition returned with dozens to hundreds of new specimens, each carefully recorded.
For instance, Sir Hans Sloane, an English physician and later the founder of the British Museum in London, was ship’s physician for a voyage to Jamaica. He returned to England in 1689 after having gathered a wide variety of specimens including over 800 species of plants which he categorized and added to his own collection.
This was the era of cataloging. Just determining what the world truly contained occupied much of the time of scientists. Private collections proved invaluable to the scientific cause.
As collections expanded to rooms and later occupied entire buildings, they became the precursors to a number of modern museums. Some were large enough to charge admission and people swarmed to see the curiosities from distant lands.
With the introduction of commerce, charlatans also flourished, creating houses of wonder based on the macabre and often perpetrated outright fraud. Two-headed monkeys, human skulls with horns, narwhal tusks presented as unicorn horns and just about every other fantasy known at the time could be seen in the less reputable establishments.
We may scoff at the gullibility of that bygone era, but we need to remember that they were seeing, for the first time, many truly strange and wonderful specimens. The occasional deception wasn’t hard to swallow, especially when they couldn’t just turn to Google for corroboration.
I don’t really try to categorize my own cabinet of curiosities. It is truly a hodgepodge, and I don’t have to concern myself with advancing science. I can focus instead on form and beauty and curiosity and let the items there remind me of the amazing world we live in and our responsibility to care for it.
TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho