Twenty-four people packed the comfortable and welcoming conference room at the North River Branch of the Massanutten Regional Library System in Bridgewater, Virginia, Saturday, June 4th. These twenty-four included our presenter, Nicky Staunton and her daughter Lou as well as Headwaters and Allegheny Master Naturalists, members of the Virginia Native Plant Society and guests of each group.
Nicky began with quotes from various readings, including this one from Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer and conservationist:
In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.
One of the intentions of her talk was to explore the integrated roles of Curiosity, Nature and Art in support of her path as an artist of the natural world. In addition she discussed the guidance she seeks to give others as they break their paths as naturalists, observers and recorders. She discussed some of the “hardware” involved in recording nature, photographic and so forth, and shared some of the results of her journey (notebooks, brochures and published books). But most importantly she sought to expand our understanding of the senses from the five familiar to seven, to include Intuition and Awe. These seven senses aid us in our decision-making regarding what it is we are seeing and how we might label and record it. The foundation for naturalist observation and recordation is Curiosity, she said. Curiosity underpins our knowledge and learning by broadening understanding and the ability to see more than we ordinarily might: Deep seeing, so to speak, instead of surface seeing.
Deep seeing requires learning through the commitment of “living with” your subjects. The more familiarity you have with what you are observing, the easier it is to understand and record all those details and connections in the natural world that bring your subject to life. The process can be described like so: “the more you look, the more you see, the more you see the more you want to know, the more you know, the more you understand, the more you understand the more you see; and on and on it repeats. Truly observing dives deeper and deeper into your subject while simultaneously ascending higher and higher above it; including more and more on all levels – representing unending discovery and growth.”
Learning to trust and discover is just as important a way to develop the skills of spontaneous and unpremeditated seeing, Nicky counsels. Knowing your subject intimately is the best way to observe and record its ongoing and cyclical life in the natural world. Fortified with knowledge and understanding we are often surprised by the “sudden” spontaneous and unpremeditated insights we experience. We have all had that learning adventure: OMG – why didn’t I see that before …?
Nicky’s passion is conservation and the path described above has informed and strengthened her commitment to her conservation efforts. She detailed some of her quests with the United Plant Savers, whose mission is to protect native medicinal plants of the USA and Canada and their habitat, ensuring a renewable supply for generations to come. Nicky has also worked with dedication for the Virginia Native Plant Society where she was the State President for three terms. Her explorations have resulted in sightings of rare and unusual plants such as False Cape plant: Bartonia verna (Spring bartonia). Digital Atlas of Virginia link. Also Burmannia biflora L. (Violet Burmannia). Digital Atlas of Virginia link. Nicky says none of us is likely to see that one, unless we go further south toward Florida.
She studies dry brush watercolor with Lara Call Gastinger; is a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, American Society of Botanical Artists, and Southern Appalachian Botanical Society. Her botanical taxonomic skills are from studies with Marion Lobstein. Nicky is also a member on the Advisory Board of the Flora of Virginia Project.
We were so pleased and honored to have her as a presenter and enjoyed every minute of what she shared.
– RoxAnna Theiss, Cohort I and Elaine Smith, Cohort IV
Below photos by Chip Brown