COOS BAY — The first “Nature Guide Journal” ran in the July 13, 2000, edition of The World — two decades ago. The topic: “upwelling,” the process through which our north summer winds drive surface seawater off shore and colder water from the depths wells up to take its place.
With a few skipped weeks to accommodate changes in publication dates or lack of space, my fortnightly publication has numbered over 500 columns. Over the years, some important and timely topics have been repeated with updates and upgrades.
In case you’re wondering: No, I don’t carry all that stuff in my head. With very few exceptions, each column involves considerable research to double-check what I think I know and to explore other angles or new information. (And, yes, I always cite any information that’s not well-accepted, common knowledge in the appropriate field of study.) Sadly, sometimes new information evaporates as soon as I click “send.”
My favorite columns?
I’m particularly fond of big ideas, profound processes, and the overlooked. And a few columns I particularly like just because they seem to gel nicely, with the right balance of big idea and vivid detail.
It’s hard to choose, but I’d say these topics are among my favorites (in no particular order): sea colors, singing dunes, aerial plankton, the life of a dead tree, rain/raindrops, tardigrades, sidewalk gardens, viruses, the moon, bats, fractals, fallen leaves, tafoni, moose, unkempt lawns, science.
What have I learned over the past two decades?
I learn something about nature with every column I write, unearthing updates and correcting misunderstandings, as well as discovering fresh information. I’ve learned other things, too:
• People love birds. And just about everyone has their own crow story.
• People like images. When possible, I will send a photo I’ve taken to support the column, or I’ll suggest an online image for the newspaper staff to use or will make suggestions on what kind of image I think would work well. The photo or graphic is always more attention-grabbing than the headline, and, as clear as I try to be in my written descriptions, adding an image is better than my words alone.
• It is, indeed, harder to write shorter than it is to write longer. I aim for 600 words — which isn’t really a lot of space when trying to present a complex idea or fascinating thing with enough detail to make it understandable and meaningful.
• My software’s spelling and grammar checker and I lock horns on occasion, but I am the human, so I make the final decision. (… Well, the human editor at The World who receives my column makes the final decision!) Storing and organizing 500 documents can be challenging, and I have been unsuccessful at retraining my fingers to place only one space after each end punctuation mark. Happily, family members can be exceedingly helpful in reviewing my efforts — and can be quite candid in their feedback.
• Writing all year long has made me more alert to potential topics to explore and share. Knowing I’m writing to readers has driven me to be more thoughtful and precise in observing and composing. Writing regularly has made me a more confident and efficient writer.
I’m very thankful for the questions and observations my readers send me, demonstrating their connections with nature and seeding new column ideas.
I am deeply gratified when someone tells me they found reading my column worthwhile, especially if they discovered something new to appreciate in a previously neglected or “ordinary” thing.
And I’m grateful to The World for the opportunity.
Back again in two weeks…
Let us know if you have a favorite “Nature Guide Journal” column! Giles is owner/operator of Wavecrest Discoveries, long-running nature guiding service on the southern Oregon Coast. For information on how you can arrange your own exploration of our fascinating natural history, contact Marty at 541-267-4027, email@example.com, or www.facebook.com/wavecrestdiscoveries. Questions and comments about local natural history are welcome. www.wavecrestdiscoveries.com.
Editor's note: We are extremely grateful for Marty's regulaly contributed column over the past 20 years. It's always interesting and we've learned a lot, as we are sure our readers have too. Her commitment is an example of the community journalism we encourage and highly value. Thank you, Marty!