Featured Blog: Rock, Paper, Lizard

Today’s featured blog is Rock Paper Lizard. The blogger behind it, Hugh, is a zoologist, nature columnist, and dad to two young children. He has an engaging sense of humor and is highly attuned to the absurdities of life at the intersection of people and nature as he shares the wonder and excitement that his children find in that same space.

In his own words, “We escape to the mountains, seashore, or up the river valley whenever we can, but skating and other lessons, and those new things–play-dates–are formidable time sinks. I enjoy taking the kids to the schoolyard. After a few minutes, they and their friends abandon the playground equipment and, if allowed, will easily spend an hour within a small cluster of birch trees in the corner of the field–which, I think, says it all.”

“Rock Paper Lizard is about all of this, and, of course, shopping carts in ditches.”

Hugh, why do you blog?

I stumbled into blogging while listening to a radio program about it. I clicked on the Blogger icon, and before I knew it, had a blog. Once the blog found its feet, it became an outlet for two of my more ingrained compulsions, sharing my interest in nature, and telling stories.

What do you like best about blogging?

I enjoy the interactions with like-minded people from anywhere, the mental effort involved, and the ability to publish without editorial interference (which can also be a risk, I suppose). In addition, I enjoy having a long-term project to work on. A blog can be exactly that.

What’s unique or different about your blog?

I suppose the experience I bring from past professional life is part of it; interspersed among backyard bird sightings and garden updates are posts of zoological esoterica, and rollicking tales of animal encounters gone wrong.

Also, I usually try to sneak a little humor into every post, to soften the impact of cold, hard facts. Humor is important.

How did you choose the name of your blog?

Some of the most challenging and rewarding field research I did was on a declining population of the highly endangered Bermuda Rock Lizard. I was trying to come up with something that would celebrate that small yet noble creature, but then somehow “paper” snuck in, rendering the name whimsical and basically meaningless, but at the same time catchy. The fact that the blog’s banner is a picture of a mudflat and a snow-capped volcano also points to either the poor choice of name, or poor choice of banner picture.

I enjoy your interpreter stories. Can you tell us a little more about those?

Thank you. These stories originated as “intermezzos,” short breaks in a novel I wrote during the year I decided to abandon paying work and stay home to look after preschool-aged children. (I had imagined there would many empty hours to kill. I ended up typing all night.) These very brief stories were based on personal experiences during a one-year stint as a Park Interpreter in the Vancouver region. More recently I started adding new stories that are longer and farther removed from real experience, but still incorporate true events (including receiving a vacuum-cleaner blast of mouse droppings in the face, and being struck by lightning while carrying an umbrella). Some readers assume that the interpreter is me, and send concerned advice, for which I am thankful, but at the same time feel a little ashamed—I’m not trying to fool anyone; it’s fiction. I would add, though, there is one heartfelt, honest idea throughout, my belief that nature interpretation is for the most part a frustrating, under-respected, underpaid occupation, a cruel workplace for those truly dedicated to it.

The novel? Not yet published. Writing one is relatively easy. Getting one published isn’t.

{editor’s note: For NBN members who are not familiar with the Interpreter Stories, they are linked from the front page of the blog. One of my individual favorites is You See What You Are Looking For, because it exemplifies a scenario we’ve all been in: You are seen as strange for being fascinated by a natural phenomenon that the majority of people simply walk by obliviously. That’s why we go on walks in groups and come together at festivals; the sheer joy of being with others who not only notice, but care.}

How do you promote your blog and attract readers?

Not as effectively as I could, I suppose. To this point I haven’t used social networking tools, although I recently joined Twitter as a way of recording backyard birding and gardening observations. Every so often someone starts following it, then realizes it’s about birds and plants and disappears without a tweet.

I participate in festivals somewhat sporadically, mostly I and the Bird and Festival of the Trees. A few times others have volunteered one of my posts, which is always a pleasant surprise. I do find that festival participation boosts readership, at least in the short term.

Any comments on being part of the nature blogger community?

It gives your blog, and by extension, you, a more rooted identity in the vast world of the internet. It connects you to those with similar interests, and through their blogs gives you a larger view of the natural world – the plants, animals and changing seasons where others live. I can go for nature walks in Singapore and North Carolina while drinking my morning coffee.

Has blogging changed how you think about nature? or how you write?

I have always thought about, read about, taken pictures of, and talked about nature a lot. That is a core part of who I am. However, because of where I now live (a suburban Anywhere), in trying to winnow out natural narratives to sustain a blog, I have unexpectedly become more aware of how resilient and persistent nature is. There’s more life around than one might think–even one predisposed to being tuned in. Thanks to blogging, I believe my powers of observation have sharpened, my sensory filters have become finer to compensate for the rarefied, compromised flora and fauna of suburbia.

As for how I write – I suppose blogging has affected that in some ways too, in that it encourages me to keep writing– and writing, like anything that takes effort, changes and hopefully improves through the effort of doing it.

Any words of wisdom for new nature bloggers?

Have one or a few focal interests that have ongoing potential to provide topics for posts.

Read other blogs, and make a regular habit of reading those you find inspiring in style or content. I always find that a good read makes me want to write.

Participate in festivals. Be not afraid; they are there for you. If you feel inclined, volunteer to host one.

Also partake of the usual collegiality. Everyone appreciates feedback. Comment on posts that interest or entertain you. That‘s a quick and positive way to connect. Link to others, and most will happily return the favor.

Anything else you’d like me to ask you, or that you’d like to volunteer without being asked?

Thank you very much for inviting me to participate.

Two of Hugh’s favorite posts from his blog are Quest for Giant Salamander (Part One) and Dodos and Other Dead Things. You can see more of his photos on Flickr.