Observing the Snail

Observing the Snail. Photo by Ian Boyd.

In our workshops we frequently have participants find a spot outside in nature that interests them and then observe it for 20-30 minutes. If you’ve tried this, you know that you get the “wigglies” after about 10 minutes. “I’ve seen enough, time to move on,” you say to yourself.

However, if you push past that and remain in place for the rest of the time or even longer, it’s amazing what is revealed to you. This has happened to me numerous times and I’ve watched how others have reacted when they too have pushed past that awkward feeling.

What happens is, you start to forget what you know. As a biologist, I know enough about flowers, flies, snails, etc. that I can spend 10 minutes just telling myself all the things I know about them. But after that 10 minutes, I’ve used up what I know and that’s when the deeper observation starts kicking in. I start noticing patterns and behaviors, colors and textures, local and system-level context. I start discovering, and it’s a truly rich, liberating moment.

You don’t need to know anything about biology to find fascinating adaptations in the natural world. This type of observing is empowering to students of all ages. A 4-year-old, a high school student, an engineer can all feel competent discovering in nature, on their own, without a biologist or the internet to help them. Yes, they can check those resources later to get more information, but we should always feel free to just observe and absorb.

It’s time well spent, and in good company.



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