By exploring nature with both eyes open, outdoor lovers learn about zoology, ichthyology, plant biology, ornithology, geology, entomology, nephology and more “-ology” words that roll off the tongue. A Jack Miles article in the December issue of The Atlantic contains a superb simile that captures a truth about this exploration of knowledge when he wrote, “Scientific progression is like mountain climbing. The higher you climb, the more you know, but the wider the vistas of ignorance that extend on all sides.”

The New Year traditionally kicks off with resolutions galore that lead folks up mountain slopes, and often the resolves range from exercising and losing weight to learning a new skill or hobby to acquiring knowledge on a topic – and then seriously pursuing the chosen topic. Intentions of acquiring facts and ideas strike me as worthwhile right to the core, and though we may fail, it’s important to pick ourselves up and try again and again – as many times as it takes to achieve a goal.

When walking forests or paddling waterways, amateur and acclaimed naturalists with inquisitive minds may notice say, a behavioral trait of flora or fauna or a formation of rocks, soil or clouds, and the how or what of the observation raises a question. Informal or formal research often provides an answer, which produces other questions. The proverbial beat goes on.

While hunting or fishing in my early 20s, my ignorance of nature started me thinking about learning more by collecting nature guidebooks and asking older folks questions about the outdoors. The more nature writers I read, the more the knowledge – and the more the questions. In short the higher I climbed, the greater the vistas with all the new enigmas to answer.

Outdoor blood sports teach participants about targeted game and fish, but also about peripheral subjects and here’s a perfect example: In my early 20s I called all small rodents “mice” or “moles” and noticed plenty of them in the woods while on bear or deer stands, or particularly, dead ones on my front steps or driveway, victims of house cats. Many of these critters were voles, lemmings or shrews, and typical of many people, I drew no distinction. Many of these creatures are the most abundant mammals in the state, some of them by far, so once I got it into my head to learn these mammals, the knowledge accumulated fast.

For me the same thing occurred when learning songbirds, shorebirds, etc., particularly songbirds that frequent my birdfeeders. The late Irving Richardson of Yarmouth encouraged me to learn wild plants, a skill he had acquired by shooting photos of blossoms and then identifying them. Beyond ground plants, I wanted to ID trees and shrubs and bought guidebooks, the latter an easier learning task than dealing with mammals, often nocturnal. Trees and shrubs don’t move.

Writers discover facts from writing about topics. They learn details well enough to put the information in print, and the writing and self-editing cement the knowledge in the old brain – for a while anyway.

Here’s a quick digression to illustrate the writing-learning process: Not long ago a stranger at Barnes & Noble in Augusta recognized me and knew I lived in Belgrade Lakes. Because of that he was telling me about a judge murdered on a train that he boarded in Belgrade and police never found the body. This great mystery filled newspapers, radio news and magazines 84 years ago – and off and on since then.

The stranger at Barnes & Noble was short on details but curious enough, so I took off on a monologue with these points: In 1930, unknown criminals murdered New York Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph F. Crate on a train from Belgrade to New York and police never found the body, an enduring mystery.

The stranger wanted to know how I knew the details. I first wrote about the slaying in 1981 and have written about it throughout the years, emphasizing that such a rural state helped perpetrators dispose of the body.

Anyway, knowing science about nature topics adds plenty to a day afield, and no one needs to learn the subjects all at once. The climb up the mountain shows vistas that grow in distance and width the higher that we go, and for amateur naturalists, the trek continues a process that offers satisfaction and great enjoyment throughout our lives.

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at:

[email protected]