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Uneducated

On a recent walk, Wendy and I spotted a buzzard. Or rather, we were walking along deep in conversation when somebody came over and said, “excuse me, have you noticed that buzzard over there?”

We hadn’t, and frankly, I wouldn’t have recognised it even if it came and perched on my arm.

This struck me more than it would usually have done, as I’d only recently read a blog post by Richard Smith in which he called himself uneducated:

Recently a group of us walked through the Yorkshire Wolds. One friend knew the name of every bird, and he recognised their songs from just a few notes. He could see them when I couldn’t. He knows the names of flowers and trees. I can tell an oak tree from a beech tree—but not even that with confidence. I marvel at flowers but know the names of few.

My ignorance began to weigh heavily on me as we walked. What is the point of knowing the difference between a mean, median, and mode if I don’t know the names of stars, flowers, trees, and fish? If abandoned on an island like Robinson Crusoe—or even in my own garden after a pandemic had killed everybody else—could I grow anything to eat? I fear not.

I agree with Richard that we need to live as part of nature, but my complete lack of knowledge of stars, flowers, trees, and birds doesn’t weigh heavily on me: I’m perfectly content to simply enjoy them.

This occurred to me on another occasion recently, as Wendy and I were walking under some trees, and she wondered aloud what species they were. Neither of us had a clue. On almost any other topic, I’d have later found myself searching the web, my curiosity driving me to learn a little about it. I don’t have that compulsion at all when it comes to the natural world around us: it’s completely absent.

And I think that’s okay. I think it’s legitimate and healthy to have areas of life that don’t drive me in that way. I think it’s good for my mental health to have things that I see and wondrously appreciate, rather than analysing. It’s nice to have the freedom to appreciate the shade of a tree without being nagged by an awareness that I’ve no idea whether it’s an oak or a beech tree.

Sometimes, being at peace with my ignorance is preferable to forcing self-development.


Wendy took the picture of the buzzard at the top of this post.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, , .

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