We can’t sail across the ocean and discover a new world today the way Christopher Columbus did back in 1492, and few if any of us will ever get a chance to travel through outer space seeing new planets. However, each of us can experience the thrill of the explorer as we discover the fascinating world of nature around us.
To guide you on your journey, I would like to present this selection from the more than one hundred “Young Naturalist” articles that originally appeared in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, the monthly publication of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Each article in the series is a compilation of information from encyclopedias, nature writings, biologists’ comments, and personal experiences and observations. They are presented in what I hope is an easy-to-read, easy-to-understand style. I have tried to tailor my writing for the fifth- to seventh-grade level, yet still attract the more adult reader. If the mail received during the past ten years gives a reliable estimate, the “Young Naturalist” may have managed to attract as many adults as children.
You are never too young or too old to explore the world of nature. Anyone can be a young naturalist, regardless of age. All you need is a large helping of curiosity; the desire to know more about your surroundings and the creatures that share them; and perhaps, in the case of a very young naturalist, the help of someone older who cares.
Many of the ideas for the “Young Naturalist” features come from an overactive childhood curiosity I never managed to outgrow. Others were a direct result of “Why, Mommy?” questions my inquisitive and now grown son has asked through the years. The magazine stories were an attempt to answer a few of the questions children ask about nature, but for which too few receive answers. These questions may have remained unanswered even into adulthood—a time when we often are too embarrassed to admit we don’t know the answers.
Have you ever wondered how long certain animals live, how fast they can run or fly, how long they sleep, whether they dream, or how they bathe? Do you know what the terms warm-blooded and cold-blooded mean and how they affect an animal’s life? Do you know what an albino is or what causes eye-shine? Are your curious about how animals communicate? You’ll find the answers to these and other questions in the “Animals” section of this book.
Are you curious about plants? A journey through the “Plants” section will help you understand how and why leaves change colors, what plant galls are, how seeds grow, why poison ivy makes you itch, and why pollen makes you sneeze. You also can take a closer look at tree bark, learn how lichens help create soil, enjoy the seldom seen “frost flowers,” marvel at the ocean’s gifts of sea-beans, and learn how to press algae artistically.
Thumb through the “Earth Sciences” section to learn how the colors of a rainbow are formed, what causes lightning, where clouds come from, what causes the tides, and how snowflakes, rain, hail, sleet, and glaze occur. You also can learn about shooting stars (meteors), geodes, and nature’s amazing crystals.
The outdoors is like a giant classroom, but it is our responsibility to understand the lessons being taught. Let the “Young Naturalist” be one of your teachers. It the Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine articles contained in this book stimulate your curiosity enough to make you want to know more, they will have accomplished their purpose.
1983 Preface. Young Naturalist. The Louise Lindsey Merrick Texas Environment Series, No. 6, pp. ix. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.