27 May 2009

What's in a name?

Today's lunchtime stroll around Henley-in-Arden got me thinking about our very human obsession with naming, categorising and organising the world around us.

Why do I work so hard at identifying birds by sight and sound? Why am I starting to photograph and identify the plants I see when I'm out and about? And why am I so ashamed at my lack of knowledge on butterflies, moths and dragonflies?!

Well, today's first sighting didn't take much identifying - the brilliant flash of blue that darted away from me down the stream was clearly my first Kingfisher on this stretch of water for a couple of years.

But as I wandered further, I started to realise that my obsession with naming things was helping me see my surroundings much more clearly than might otherwise be the case. If I didn't know it was White Campion, would I have paid so much attention to the flashes of white along the riverbank? If I hadn't planted a few Flag Irises in my own pond, would I have stopped to admire the stand of yellow flowers by the small pond? And if I hadn't failed to find Ragged Robin on a so many recent outings, would I have even noticed the few whispy pinky flowers just a few feet away (pictured)?

I think not.

The act of naming, of knowing what we are looking at, fulfils many purposes and has many joys, but principal among them is the way it encourages awareness. The very act of putting a name on something compels us to stop and notice it, and in doing so to begin to value it. And that, in turn, makes our world a more joyous place.

Either that or I'm just justifying my own nerdy obsessions. Possible, distinctly possible.

Bird of the day: Yes, there is one among all this, the Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), the unmistakeable flash of blue that enlivens any riverside walk.

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