A Naturalist Voice
Field notes by J. Cantrell, paintings by Pieter Brest van Kempen
It has been said that nature is comparable to the arts… to truly appreciate or ignite a continuing lifelong pursuit of understanding the arts, we must start with the pretty. Perhaps to understand the process of the art’s inspiration or the intricate life assemblages in each ecosystem, they too have a common core by the need for study beyond the “pretty”.
Nothing compares to a personal experience in an outstanding “natural area”. Missouri has a natural areas program administrated by the Missouri State Parks, Mark Twain National Forest, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Nature Conservancy and the Missouri Department of Conservation. This program designates a small number of tracts of land that are classic examples of specific habitats. They give conservation-minded landowners and refuge managers a template to strive for, hoping their property may be a reflection of such diversity. The sanctuary lands are reserves for thousands of native animals and plants.
When I take classes of teachers, volunteers or even the general public out to prime habitats, I might refer to some grounds as a natural area. The property might not be “in the system,” but it is a natural area referring to its native species diversity and having its landscape intact.
Integrity is the best term I know of in referencing the character of these kinds of places. They harbor species that may be limited in more human influenced parcels; we witness them like the Osage and Lewis & Clark might have noted. These life forms interact with each other, some in a partnership, some in interactions of life and death. Humankind depends on these refuges of biodiversity not just in our state but worldwide for learning, and advances in medicines, fiber and food. Still today more than 25% of our new medications have their base in plant discoveries. It is a simple and direct fact: we need biodiversity. It is “double simple” we need the arts for our inspiration and creative outlets.
Naturalists and nature admirers are mesmerized past the pretty and beyond the consumptive uses of nature. We are enamored by the whole bio-mechanism before us, just as we are with talented artful expressions. Conservationist Aldo Leopold said “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota … has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” I think the same can be said for the arts; every example should be represented, appreciated and shared.
Author's Note: The SHOW ME the OZARKS region is hosting a remarkable gift sponsored by the Beshore Family and the Missouri Arts Council at Joplin’s George A. SPIVA Center for the Arts until July 16. Everyone interested is encouraged to visit the Biodiversity Main Gallery and take in the splendor of biodiversity integrity captured by Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen featuring natural area scenes around the world. The free exhibit is captivating for all naturalist types and the details are ongoing far beyond the pretty. I think you will love it!
SPIVA member Jeff Cantrell is a local outdoor educator and biologist. He encourages everyone to visit SPIVA this summer and will be glad to recommend natural areas to visit in our area.