In 1980 I received a letter from a young student who asked: “What is life?” The query was simple and direct, but as I sought to find a definitive and understandable answer, the task proved beyond me until I realized that instead of seeking to define life, I had to characterize it, for definition must always be limiting and abstract. Characterization, conversely, is scientifically open-ended and tends to draw a researcher closer to the subject of enquiry. Life, I concluded, cannot be defined, but it can be characterized because every living entity is unique and has personality.
That child’s letter and my reply were largely responsible for my desire to write this book, a project towards which, I suppose, I had been leaning for a long time.
Soon after completing four years of biological studies, during which I majored in mammalogy, I found myself frustrated by the restrictive foci of the science and especially by the fact that my tutors sought to push me towards a cloistered speciality. I wanted to be a generalist; I wanted to study life in the field — not a classroom, not in a laboratory, not as a government biologist, and definitely not as an industrial adviser.
So I turned to writing; however I did not abandon biology. Instead, I became a sort of academic maverick, dedicating myself to field study and later interpreting my findings in language understandable to the layman.
I was not long in drawing criticism from a number of establishment biologists. I have persisted because I feel that it is vital to the well-being of the world to simplify biology for those who need, and want, to be informed, but who cannot grasp the meanings concealed in the jargon-ridden scientific texts and papers that are emerging in ever-increasing volume. The Natural History of Canada has therefore been written for the layperson.
In departing from the “scientific,” I am aware that there are those who will want to quibble over my approach, who will see some of my writings as being biologically simplistic. To them, I say that such is my intent, my purpose being to characterize the nature of Canada and not to attempt a scientific text, albeit I stand behind the biology that this book contains.
There may also be some critics within the scientific community who will accuse me of being anthropomorphic — of investing nature with human qualities. These individuals I answer with the words written by Dr. Marston Bates in his book, The Forest and the Sea:
“Students of behavior make much of the sin of anthropomorphism, but I have never been able to get as upset about this as some of my colleagues. In fact, I think the effort to avoid the use of human terms in describing animal behavior often produces not clarity and objectivity but inhumane and unreadable prose.” ~ Marston Bates
“The Natural History of Canada” (c) 1988 By R.D. Lawrence ISBN: 1550130641
This 2005 version updated and Revised By Biologist Michal Polak