The Regional Review

Volume VI - Nos. 3 & 4

March-April, 1941


by Robert F. Smart, Professor of Biology, University of Richmond


Man is God's most interesting creature on the earth. As are the leaves of a tree, no two men are exactly alike. Yet, all men are alike in that they are triune in nature,---they think, they feel, and they do. Or we may say the trinity of Man's being refers to his "head, heart and hand". Unfortunately each of these three components of man's being may have its unpleasant side, since every virtue has its correlative vice. So the one who developes an hypertrophied scientific attitude has the vice of coldness and egoism, dogmatism, and "maniacal muck-raking for mere items of fact". Through excessive development of sentimentality, feeling may degenerate into maudlin sensibility and "emotional caterwauling"; while to be wholly practical and vocational is "to grub for edible roots" and see "no flowers upon the earth, no stars overhead".

So we face the question stated as the subject of this paper: Why should one study Nature?

Well, as Prof. Torrey has so admirably expressed it, "there is a whole series of answers to this question-one for each department of the triune man". We must remember, of course, this division of man into parts must be arbitrary, for in reality the perfect blending of all of these elements makes up man's life.

Plants alone constitute the most conspicuous element in the human environment. Yet how many men pause in their rapid rush of life to give thanks for the food, textile fibers, drugs, plant fats, aromatic oils, spices, sugars, flavoring extracts, woods, gums, lacquers, dye compounds and a thousand other products which make our existence upon the earth possible, to say nothing of the popular narcotic, nicotine, which makes life a little more enjoyable for millions of people. Indeed, there is scarcely a worthy work in the world which is not in some way concerned with plant products. To know plants as living creatures is to add joy to one's vocation of "grubbing for edible roots".

Our second answer must be to the "heart" as our first was to the "hand" Here we deal with the humanistic phase of Nature study --- the phase which deals specifically with human problems, and with the emotional aspect of man's being. Things of Nature always have had a strong human appeal. Out of the past come strange legends of the uses of plants in ceremonial magic; of traceless, subtle poisons. Classic and modern literatures enforce their points with specific reference to creatures of Nature, especially plants. And today, man trapped in the rush and tension prompted by twentieth century industrialism and borne down beneath the burden's of man's strife with man, he seeks an escape for his weary mind, burdened heart, and tattered nerves by looking more and more to nature as the best physician. Yet to one who is untrained in Nature's ways, who is unable to hold "communion with her visible forms", who is unfamiliar with birds, rocks, the earth upon which he walks, trees, flowers, insects, there can be small profit in a vacation spent in the country.

The third answer to our question--Why Study Nature? is given by the critical mind with its passion for order and symmetry. Where else could the methods of precision and intellectual honesty be taught better than by Nature herself? The average person is a careless and superficial observer, due largely to his indolence and lack of rigorous discipline. This discipline must start with voluntary attention to material things amenable to study by the use e of the sense organs. Let him observe the physical features of the earth and of her manifold forms of living creatures, for out of such percepts grow the units from which concepts arise. Surely Nature study enters into the apprenticeship which the "God of Things as They Are" sets for each of His highest creatures, called Man.

And what, now is the point of these paragraphs? It is simply to point out again the very fact that our Federal and State Governments are conscious of the value of "communion with Nature." Why else would the large expenditure of funds have been made in the opening of State and National Parks that their finer mental and spiritual resources may be made available to you and me - taxpayers? A group of Virginia citizens also recognize the need and value of Nature Study on the part of our people, but they believe that intelligent Nature study demands intelligent, trained leadership. To this end, the Virginia Natural History Institute was organized.

The Virginia Natural History Institute offered its first course in Nature Leadership Training during the summer of 1940 at the Swift Creek Recreational Demonstration Area near Richmond. The Institute's second training course will be offered at the same area this summer from June 23 to August 2. The course is to be again under the able directorship of Reynold E. Carlson, Director of Nature Activities of the National Recreation Association. Mr. Carlson will be supported by a corps of instructors drawn from the National Park Service and Virginia Colleges and Universities and State Departments. The student body will be limited to twenty-five selected from those applicants who in the opinion of the Committee on Admission, are best qualified to take the work and those who are most likely to make the greatest use of the training.

nature study group
Nature Study Group

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Date: 04-Jul-2002