Natural history

The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double backward somersault through a hoop while whistling the Star Spangled Banner, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish. — Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

A lit­tle red bee­tle walks over my arm. On this won­der­ful­ly warm Sat­ur­day I have noth­ing on my to-do list, so I can enjoy our square meter of veg­etable gar­den. Dur­ing the week, Fred­dy is the hero in the gar­den who keeps every­thing alive. The bean plants tum­ble over their grow­ing strings and bloom abun­dant­ly. The bee­tle does not mind me mak­ing a pic­ture of him. If I would have been a biol­o­gist, I would imme­di­ate­ly go online to check which species he belongs to.

Last week we vis­it­ed Down House, where Charles Dar­win lived with his fam­i­ly for 40 year. Their gar­den was slight­ly larg­er than ours, and any insect that has ever shown up there is almost cer­tain­ly indexed. Darwin’s gar­den was his lab­o­ra­to­ry. He for instance marked a rec­tan­gle in the grass in 1856, about as big as our veg­etable gar­den. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing years he record­ed how many dif­fer­ent species emerged and sur­vived there. When it comes to pub­li­ca­tions he would be con­sid­ered an incred­i­bly pro­duc­tive sci­en­tist today. But he was a man of “inde­pen­dent means” and did not have to painful­ly col­lect his salary from project proposals.


In the absence of gar­den­ing skills I main­ly study nature through books, like The cul­tur­al lives of whales and dol­phins, from Hal Whitead en Luke Ren­dell. I guess almost every­one is fas­ci­nat­ed by whales and dol­phins. If you watched or read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know that dol­phins are very intel­li­gent. (watch the dol­phins here). The authors of this book take the posi­tion that these ani­mals are cul­tur­al beings. Just like peo­ple are more than their genes, (some) oth­er ani­mals are too.

When it comes to the his­to­ry of human­i­ty, I am now read­ing Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli who is veg­an. But I only dis­cov­ered that lat­er. The fate of the ani­mals is not the only rea­son why he calls the tran­si­tion from hunt­ing-gath­er­ing to agri­cul­ture ‘History’s biggest fraud’:

The Agri­cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion cer­tain­ly enlarged the sum total of food at the dis­pos­al of humankind, but the extra food did not trans­late into a bet­ter diet or more leisure. Rather, it trans­lat­ed into pop­u­la­tion explo­sions and pam­pered elites. The aver­age farmer worked hard­er than the aver­age for­ager, and got a worse diet in return.

I also start­ed read­ing the books on which the TV series Games of Thrones is based. Of course that has been a hype for a long time but I have nev­er seen the series. I actu­al­ly don’t like movies with a lot of vio­lence, so read­ing the books seemed like a good com­pro­mise. And the first book was real­ly nice, excite­ment and adven­ture with a range of colour­ful characters.

While I’m writ­ing this I’m com­plete­ly in touch with my inner pri­mate, because I just picked a flea from Ivan’s coat. Nature is all very nice, but I’m hap­pi­er if the insects stay in the garden.