Name Game

My dad knew the name of just about every living thing in the woods and fields where I grew up. He was an amateur scientist and tried hard to impart his love of nature to his children.

When summer was in fresh bloom, we’d wade into the streams and vernal pools and collect specimens — newts, larvae and hydras — to bring home and peer at under his old brass microscope, a relic from his college days. Walks through the forest were accompanied by a curious muttering as he would recognize an animal track, spot a rare variety of tree or point out an edible fern or a poisonous flower. He always knew them by name.

It must have disappointed him when my interests diverged from his at an early age. Even though I didn’t choose the path of science, his peculiar gift stuck with me. From time to time I tried to become as prolific as he was in biological nomenclature. I mostly failed, but in recent years I’ve made a renewed effort to get out in my backyard and identify even the humblest weeds. On a good day, I can sound pretty impressive reciting plant names and the sources of scat (from coyote to bear), but only in that small territory.

Names are important, as anyone who has ever forgotten one can tell you. They are the tabs on the file folders where we store our knowledge and insight into the world around us. Knowing a cedar from a hemlock turns the green blur of a forest into a more familiar place filled with specific landmarks and wonders. The same is true of the animals and insects who share our state (and backyards). It’s not that different being in a group of people. The first sign of respect is to learn the names of those around you.

For 150 years, NH Fish and Game has had a huge role in increasing the respect that the human herd pays to the wild creatures that share our world. They do this by stewardship, education and advocacy. They conserve fish and wildlife habitats, survey watersheds and conduct biological surveys on the various impacts that the modern world has upon them. In 1938, after a major reorganization of the department, the new director, Robert Stobie, wrote, “It is necessary that the citizen has an intelligent conception of the value of our birds, mammals and fishes.”

Stobie knew that the best way for people to understand that value was for them to encounter those creatures as hunters, fishermen and amateur naturalists (like my dad), so creating public access remains a priority. But not everyone is comfortable tracking through the backcountry in orange camo with a gallon of deet. For those, they offer their NH Wildlife Journal, packed with facts and brilliant photos. Also in those pages you will find the cleverly detailed wildlife drawings of artist Marc Sutherland, whose talents we have borrowed for our June feature story “Our Wild and Weird Animals."

Sutherland was not trained as a scientist, but he shares his delight with the curious creatures that surround us by combining biological accuracy with the whimsy of a cartoonist. And just like my father was on his walks, and like NH Fish and Game has been for 150 years, he’s on a first-name basis with the natural world.

Categories: Editor’s Note