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Naming Nature
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This afternoon Mary and I watched a nuthatch hopping around on the roof outside the office window. I was able to identify our small visitor immediately. The gray body, the distinctive black head and white face, the long straight bill, were unmistakable, even to me. Nuthatches used to frequent the family birdfeeder during the winters when I was growing up.

Although I find nature aesthetically pleasing, I'm bad at putting names to any of it. I'd be hard pressed to identify most of the trees surrounding the yard let alone the ones on the hills. I can tell a pine from a maple, and a Cardinal from a Blue Jay. I know what a crow sounds like and that the yellow things in the lawn are dandelions. For the most part, though, the nature I see remains unclassified in my mind. It's just there.

To be able to merely label a thing is not very useful, I think. The hosta along the back of the house certainly don't know or care that we have given them a name, or that I spent some time last year scratching my head until I recalled what those familiar leafy plants were. The fact they have a name doesn't change them in any way.

The value in identifying a thing is that it allows one to learn more. I could look up nuthatches to find out what they eat, what our visitor hoped to find amidst the twigs left scattered by the melted snow on the eroded shingles and cracked tar. Whatever the nuthatch was looking for, he apparently didn't find. He didn't stay long and hasn't returned. I suppose it's his own business and he probably doesn't care if I choose not to probe into his affairs.

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