DISCLAIMER: Here’s the thing about my attempts to interpret nature: It’s quite likely that I have no real understanding of what is right before my eyes despite how much I’d like to think that I do.
I am given to erroneous interpretations that are based on what I believe I’m seeing but not at all on what is known. I talk a good line. I am an amateurish observer with good intentions; I’m an armchair zoologist, a tipsy mycologist, a pretend botanist who never looked through a microscope.
So then, what can be said about my report of the red-winged blackbird riding on the back of a sandhill crane? I thanked my lucky stars that I just happened to stop at Edna Taylor Conservation Park for a few minutes that afternoon. Out came my "i-phone-as-video-camera" while I told my dog to “Look at that! Look at that!” The blackbird rode that bronco-crane bareback through the marsh and back again. To understand this strange sight, I had to do some magical interpretation. I went home thinking that I’d been the fortunate witness of a curiously whimsical scene.
But this was no circus trick of poodles doing a 2-legged conga line. This was a dance with death played out before me and I was late to the party. These cranes were not the elegant, reclusive statues blending into the marsh’s edge. In this scenario, the cranes were the bad guys and the blackbirds were chasing them out of Dodge.
This is all to say that I make things up without even knowing it. I do the best I can but don’t trust me.
I have looked at hundreds of early natural history paintings. Created by botanists and artists alike from the17th century forward, botanical illustrations did the job of recording the natural world until photography could take over. Working directly from nature, subjects were keenly observed but often imaginatively interpreted, blending myth, observation and varied levels of artistry. What was unknown or not understood to the painter might well have been made up.
This is where I fit in best. In another age I could easily have been a scientist with a box of paints or an artist with an eyepiece on a lanyard. Happy either way.