Posts Tagged ‘“babblespeak”’

R.D. Lawrence–Wildlife Writer

November 8, 2017

I enjoy deciphering articles published in scientific journals and translating them into language a layman can understand.  I learned how to do this because of my long fascination with Pleistocene ecology.  Information about Pleistocene ecology almost entirely comes from scientific journal articles, and I found the language in these publications can be unnecessarily complex and oftentimes the writing is just bad.  I had to learn how to interpret them.  Some scientists are good writers, but others are not.  R.D. Lawrence (1921-2003) was a writer who felt the same way I do about language in scientific journals.  At 1 point in his life he was studying to be a biologist.  He wrote a thesis about stickleback fish, and his professor told him it was good, but he wanted him to rewrite it in the language used by scientific journals instead of the easy to understand language Mr. Lawrence had used.  He rejected this “babblespeak” and dropped out of school.  He later wrote 36 books about Canadian wildlife and won 7 awards.

The late R.D. Lawrence relaxing at home with his pet raccoon.

R.D. Lawrence was born in Spain to a Spanish mother and an English journalist who worked for Reuters.  At the age of 14 he was separated from his family during the Spanish Civil War, and he joined the side fighting against the fascists.  (Ironically, his brother joined the fascists.)  Though just a teenager, he led 1 military attack in the sewers against the fascists.  Eventually, he escaped to southeastern France and was later reunited with his family in England.  He fought for Great Britain during World War II.  He was at Dunkirk, rode a tank in North Africa, and was severely wounded during the D-Day invasion.  His injuries ended his military career.  He moved to Canada and worked as a journalist, while studying nature in his spare time.  He gathered enough material so that he was able to start getting his books about Canadian wildlife published.  Recently, I’ve read 3 of his books.

Mr. Lawrence and his wife bought some land in the wilderness of Ontario during 1962.  Here, they built a cabin where they spent weekends.  (He still worked as a journalist during the week.)  He bought the land before most of Ontario was logged over and converted into suburbs, so much of the wildlife was naïve and not particularly afraid of people.  He wrote about his experiences at this cabin in his book, The Place in the Forest.  The semi-tame animals frequenting his cabin yard included red squirrels, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, white-footed mice, snowshoe hares, and birds.  Bird seed and table scraps encouraged the creatures of the forest to hang around the cabin, and if the door was left open, they would enter the cabin and help themselves.  Mr. Lawrence and his wife adopted 2 orphaned raccoon kits and after they were grown and freed, they often returned and joined the feast.  Mr. Lawrence also wrote about some of the less tame inhabitants in the local wilderness–beavers, deer, wolves, black bears, and birds of prey.  He didn’t let worms and insects go unnoticed either.  My favorite chapter relates his encounter with a bald-faced hornet’s nest when he was climbing a tree to photograph a hawk’s nest on another nearby tree.

Mr. Lawrence’s wife died of a brain aneurism at a quite young age, prompting him to move to British Columbia where he decided to buy a boat and travel up the Pacific coast from Vancouver to southern Alaska by himself.  He wrote about this experience in his book, Voyage of the Stella.  When he fished for salmon to eat, he often caught weird species of fish–wolf fish, Pacific lancet fish, barrel eyes, and dogfish. He fed these to the killer whales that occasionally swam near his boat, and he even dove in the water with them while wearing his scuba gear.  The killer whales never bothered him, but he once had to fend off a blue shark.  On his journey he also encountered pods of Dall’s porpoises and a pair of whale sharks.  He refueled his boat at the Indian villages that dotted the coast.  Most of the Indians were friendly, but 1 drunk tried to hit him over the head with a ketchup bottle while he was trying to eat supper at a restaurant. The brave war veteran floored the Indian with an open palm blow to the forehead.

Mr. Lawrence demonstrated even more courage in his next book, The Ghost Walker.  He spent 8 months in a wilderness cabin located in a remote area of British Columbia that was 60 miles from the nearest town, and the only feasible connection to civilization was an hazardous canoe ride down a river.  He used this makeshift cabin as an home base for tracking a large male cougar.  He gained the cougar’s trust, and the big cat let the man follow him around.  Mr. Lawrence experienced several dangerous situations, aside from trusting the cougar not to turn around and eat him.  During a blizzard, Mr. Lawrence sought shelter in a creekside cave but found himself staring eye-to-eye with an hibernating grizzly bear.  Mr. Lawrence popped out of the cave like a “champagne cork” and fled, dropping his backpack which the angry bear tore to shreds. On another occasion he slipped down an icy slope, hit a tree, and sustained a concussion.  He administered his own first aid.  He often tracked the cougar after sunset, walking in the dark woods by himself for hours.  He was 1 brave soul.

I have 1 criticism of Mr. Lawrence.  He imagined he had established ESP connections with a cougar and a killer whale.  There is no rational scientific basis for his belief.  I’m sure it was his imagination, not an ESP connection.  He was just lucky the animals he “communed” with didn’t decide to attack and eat him.