When I retired last December I had big plans for this site. My delusions encompassed the idea that I would write multiple profiles several days a week, and get out in the field several days a week. For the first few weeks I was splitting time between editing and organizing photos of unprofiled life forms, and writing profiles of those lifeforms, and barely leaving the house. By the time I had organized the photos I had realized that I am too slow at writing and researching to be able to average any more than one profile per day.
And even at that rate it felt like a job, and I felt lazy and/or guilty anytime I wasn’t actively engaged in something site related. The whole thing felt very overwhelming. Even doing 1 profile per day it was going to take me 26+ years to hit 10,000, putting me into my late 80s! I haven’t taken nearly good enough care of this body to have any expectations that I’ll see 87, and the chances I’ll do so with my mind and locomotion skills up to the twin tasks of finding and profiling these lifeforms, are probably less than those of Adam Sandler against Bob Barker in ‘Slapshot’.
At the same time I was feeling overwhelmed by the tasks involved in accomplishing this project I was also having something of an existential crisis, which was brought on by realizing that, even if I were to spend a lifetime studying and researching a single species, I would still not actually know even all of the phenomenal attributes of the individuals of that species, and couldn’t possibly know their noumenom (a thing as it is in itself, as distinct from a thing as it is knowable by the senses through phenomenal attributes). You may say, as some friends did say, ‘Dude, you are way overthinking this!’, which is undoubtedly true, since I am a long term member of the Overthinkers Club. But, due to having more time to devote to the profiles, I had gone from my original goal of trying to pique people’s interest in these things I love, to trying to present a reasonably full portrait of them (and inflicting a fair amount of frustration on myself when the information I desired and the information I could find did not align), and truly realizing that, no matter how much information I tried to impart, it was impossible to accurately portray even the norms of a species, was, to say the least, dispiriting.
So, I took a break. Originally I thought it would be a few day reassessment period, but there was such relief, at not having the daily burden of not only hours of research but the sometimes onerous task of summarizing all of that research, and putting it into words that were accurate, not overly technical, or pure plagiarism (along with needing to do it 9,598 more times) hanging over my head, that I realized it might be a month before I started in again. But some things came up in those first few weeks that made me wonder whether I’d ever revisit this project.
The first obvious question was, ‘What will I do instead?’ I had always intended to revisit some of my past recreations/hobbies when I retired, so I bought a fishing license, looked into joining a rock climbing gym, and got my paints, easel, and brushes out of the attic (I am a terrible painter, with absolutely no talent, but as long as I don’t muck it up with standards and expectations, I find it very enjoyable to slap paint on a surface and see what eventuates). And, of course, having the historic attraction to fishing and the addictive personality that I do, I immediately became obsessed by it. There may be folks reading this that will be offended that I am a sport fisherman, those who agree with Jacques Cousteau’s comment that “If one enjoys the act of catching fish-sport fishing- then he is suffering a perversion”, and I am not immune to this idea. But the fact of the matter is that I do enjoy fishing, and the ‘act of catching fish’, as well as pursuing and attempting to net flying insects, and I refuse to apologize for the fact that I find these activities fun.
Another set of problems I’ve encountered during this project have to do with difficulties in identification. Since I am not an entomologist, botanist, mycologist, or any other sort of -ologist, keying out specimens to species is a laborious, time consuming, and often frustrating process, often made much more difficult because I am color blind. Shortly before I took the break from writing profiles a mycologist questioned my identification of a bracket fungi, saying he’d never heard of them having any pink in them, and requesting that I do microscopy to confirm things. Now, I know he was being a good scientist, shooting for certainty by hedging his bets and not taking anything for granted, but this was exasperating for several reasons. For one thing I couldn’t see anything I thought of as pink. For another, coloration in fungi changes with age and is influenced by nutrition, and the rest of the patterning, coloration, morphology, and habitat matched very well with the species. And, not surprisingly, it turns out that I don’t have the patience, dexterity, or experience to be able to accomplish that level of microscopy. Or, more honestly and accurately, to be willing to find the patience, and develop the dexterity and experience necessary to accomplish that task.
And speaking of color, whilst reading some things referring to the limitations of our sensory apparatus shortly after I stopped doing profiles, I was blindsided by realizing the implications of the fact that we only see the frequencies of light reflected by an object. This means that, in the case of the pink mushroom, it is probably all of the colors in the spectrum except pink, since that is the one that it reflects rather than accepts. Now, I didn’t immediately give up calling things by the colors my eyes perceive, but it fed directly into my philosophical conflict between perceiving only the phenomena of an object, and not it’s noumenon.
This probably all seems academic, or even highbrow, so let’s put it in simple terms. My realization was that, to paraphrase my good friend Ray Bailey, I don’t know squat, probably can’t really learn much, and I’ll die wondering what anything really is. Along the same lines here’s a quote from a great book I recently purchased; “All of the information in this book is wrong. All of it. Wasps are an appallingly understudied group of organisms, to the point that even this book- the most complete visual field guide of social wasps to date- is built precariously upon the edge of a vast, unsolved jigsaw puzzle. Every illustration and fact presented here is based on the best current scientific understanding of these insects, but we are still very far from the whole truth.” (“The Social Wasps of North America”; pg 4; Chris Alice Kratzer; 2022).
But it also turns out that I enjoy sharing some of my adventures, and something about the life forms I find. So, what does this mean for this site? Well, I’ve abandoned my quest for 10,000 things, although I’m keeping the title in view of the incredible diversity in the PNW, and my hope that someone else will carry on after I’m gone. And there will be somewhat less emphasis on identification to species level, mostly because of my own laziness. But also because I had been thinking that I needed species identification to help rack up the numbers to reach 10,000, and now that that isn’t my goal I don’t think I need to work that hard. I also recognize that a fair number of my readers aren’t willing or able to dig that deep either (unless you’re an aspiring neurosurgeon or trying to publish about new species I don’t imagine that anyone finds genitalic dissection to be fun), and getting things to genus does shed at least some light on the mystery that is a living organism. Yet this does not mean that I won’t make an attempt to get to species. Just that I’m not going to spend hours and hours doing so.
There will probably be fewer and less regular profiles, and slightly more emphasis on blogs and other more generalized and/or trip specific writing. And the profiles themselves won’t be as in depth. This may be hard for me to do, since that was my original idea and it didn’t take long before I was going deeper. But I do want this site to be fun for me, as well as being informative, and I’ll still be providing links to further information. I just probably won’t be mining and refining them to the same extent that I was. I also probably won’t be sharing as much on Facebook groups. Facebook has made it labor intensive to do so, and it hasn’t always been rewarding. But I will always post a link on my own timeline/wall/whatever they call my homepage on Facebook, and anyone who wishes to ‘follow’ me can always access them there. There is also a free subscription option on this website, and anything I publish will be automatically e-mailed to you.
I know I will probably lose readers because of these changes, but it really came down to ‘do it differently or don’t do it at all’, and I chose to keep doing it. I still hope that my words and photos will pique peoples interest in these lifeforms, and that many will click on the links and dig deeper into their lives. And I also hope that what is written here will still be at least somewhat entertaining or compelling, for my readers as well as for myself.