In a boggy patch of old-growth on Galiano Island, Andrew Simon and two of his fellow naturalists pull out hand-held microscopes to inspect a shard of wood covered in a miniature lawn of moss.
The three throw around Latin names for various mosses before Andrew tucks a sample into a brown paper bag to examine under a larger microscope later.
Andrew is spearheading Biodiversity Galiano, a grassroots mission to document every last species on the gulf island.
On this rainy day, he’s gathered a crew for a bioblitz BioblitzAn event where participants attempt to identify as many species as possible within a specific area and time frame. focused on mosses and lichens, with the goal of collecting and identifying previously undocumented life forms to add to the Galiano Island life list.
Andrew is part of a long tradition of naturalists who have always kept life lists, he says. These lists vary widely in size, from the Catalogue of Life, which keeps record of every species on the planet, to as small as a personal bird sightings list.
Andrew knows the scientific name of nearly every animal, vegetable, and mineral in sight—he has keen naturalistic intelligence.
According to psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, people can be intelligent in a multitude of different ways. Some people are athletically, mathematically, or musically gifted, while others, like Andrew, have a given intelligence in the natural world.
And while this theory has critics and is difficult to prove, there certainly are folks whose observations have helped reveal patterns in nature.
In pre-industrial societies, they were often knowledge keepers, as their keen sense for the wild world was helpful in tracking wildlife and identifying plants.
In European societies, this proclivity for the wild world became especially pronounced during the Age of Exploration between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Naturalists of this era traveled the world collecting specimens and systematically documented an unprecedented diversity of life for Western science.
David Douglas and Georg Wilhelm Steller traveled to the Pacific northwest during this period, and many species such as the Douglas fir and Steller jay still bear their names.