I was recently challenged to come up with some “bucket list” items related to wildlife and outdoor Arizona.
I love the term “bucket list.” It’s so much faster and less morbid than asking someone, “What would you like to see, do, experience or accomplish before you die?”
The items on this particular list must relate to wildlife and take place in Arizona. It can be useful to have constraints such as these when coming up with a bucket list. When all the world is in play, choosing a handful of specific items is much tougher. Would I choose spring in Paris over spring in Seville? Who could decide? Faced with unlimited and equally attractive options, I often succumb to decision-making paralysis. Having sideboards focuses my mind.
As I brainstormed items related to wildlife and occurring in Arizona, I called on memories from the past 10 years.
- Listening to an enormous flock of sandhill cranes murmur and chatter unseen in the last shadows of night at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area.
- Thrilling to the sight of a soaring California condor as I endured the last, long hour of a hike out of the Grand Canyon.
- Freezing in my tracks at the sound of a bugling elk, somewhere off in the distant forest.
- Startling a pronghorn, which took off at a sprint faster even than the pounding of my heart.
- Watching a swarm of hummingbirds in brief, fierce aerial battles around a line of feeders.
- Walking through the woods in southern Arizona, hoping to show my dad an elegant trogon, and having an actual trogon fly right past us and perch on a branch 10 yards away.
By definition, these memorable events can’t be on my bucket list because I’ve already experienced them, but I can confidently recommend them to anyone else, including readers of Arizona Wildlife Views magazine.
What should be on my list? What have I yet to experience? I’m still mulling that over. What about you? What wildlife-related items (in Arizona or not) are on your bucket list?
Question: When I use “wildlife” as the subject of a sentence, should it take a singular or plural verb form?
Annoying yet accurate answer: It can take either, depending on what you want the sentence to mean.
If you’ve come here hoping for a simple answer to this question, I’m sorry to disappoint you! You’ve asked a tricky question, and the response requires a bit of thought on your part.
“Wildlife” is not an easy word to work with. It looks singular, like “house.” Unlike “house,” “wildlife” does not become plural when an “s” is added on the end. Yet there are times when “wildlife” is plural, depending on the meaning it’s supposed to convey. That’s because “wildlife” is an example of a collective noun, also known as a mass noun (see “The Wildlife Conundrum” for more on mass nouns).
Nouns such as “wildlife” are tricky, because in order to match them to a correct verb form, you can’t just look at the word. It won’t tell you it’s plural or singular. You have to look at the sentence, and think about its intended meaning.
If the meaning of the sentence indicates that you’re considering wildlife collectively, as a whole group, the correct verb form is singular: “wildlife is.” This usually happens when you’re thinking of wildlife as a concept: the aggregate of non-human animals. An example would be, “Though seldom seen or heard, wildlife is all around us.”
If the meaning of the sentence indicates that you’re considering the actions of individual members of the group, use a plural verb form: “wildlife are.” An example would be, “Some wildlife are known to behave aggressively toward humans, though this is rare.”
If you’re looking for an easy guideline, try this: The group is, but individuals are.
If you want advice on a sentence or paragraph that’s troubling you, post it in a comment. I’ll be happy to suggest an answer in my reply.
I hate to point this out, and those of you with sensitive natures may find it shocking, but most freelance writers strive to produce a publishable story while investing the minimum amount of time researching, drafting, revising and polishing it.
This is a sensible, cost-effective strategy. Our magazine pays writers based on the word count of a published piece, not on the number of hours they devoted to preparing it. The fewer hours spent on each article, the higher the hourly rate of pay. This is not a bad strategy—but writers who use it must have the skill to pull it off.
Those who don’t are wise to invest time to gain that skill. The hourly pay rate may be lower, at the start, but devotion to craft pays off, and I mean that literally. Editors can tell when a submission is not a writer’s best work. We wince as that writer then rushes through the editing process with a minimum of attention to changes. When I assign the next story, will I choose that writer, or someone who delivers a polished first draft and works closely with me throughout the editing process? It’s an easy choice.
Don’t get me wrong: I like coaching writers. I don’t mind editing a workmanlike but rough draft, as long as the writer sticks with me to make sure the final version is representative of the best work he or she can do. Editing is a partnership.
For writers who find the editing process tedious, here’s my question: Can you hear the music in your words? A good editor can help you discover it. If you can’t be bothered to listen, why write? There are other, far more lucrative ways to make a living. If you don’t care enough to tune your work as attentively as a violinist tunes a Stradivarius—if it sometimes seems, to you and to the editor, that they care more about the melodies in your work than you do—maybe it’s time to pick another profession.
Start 2014 with a smile: Read the post I’ve linked below. This is how John McIntyre introduces himself to students in his copy editing class each semester. McIntyre is the night content production manager at the Baltimore Sun and a wise and funny sage of the editing trade. If reading his prose tempts you to follow him on Facebook or become a devotee of his blog, give in to temptation. You will never regret reading anything he writes.
Day One, by John McIntyre.
I’m still poring over the “Language of Conservation Memo 2013,” and I’ve found another so-called bad word to avoid: “endangered species.”
Again, there’s no explanation of this in the memo. The term simply appears on a list. Why is “endangered species” a term that conscientious conservation communicators should eschew?
Back when “endangered species” was coined, I think the simplicity of it must have held some allure. An endangered species is simply an animal in danger — picture a polar bear cub on a shrinking piece of ice. The term appealed to the widespread human desire to help the helpless.
Nowadays, of course, it’s a technical term. An “endangered species” is not simply a kind of animal that is in danger, it’s a species or subspecies on the federal list of threatened and endangered species. To merit the term “endangered,” a species must be “listed.” The feds do that. It’s squarely in the realm of bureaucracy, and if there’s anything more scary/boring to the average American than science, it’s bureaucracy.
To replace these bad words, the memo again suggests using “fish and wildlife,” as it did for “biodiversity.” As a conservation communicator, I sighed at this substitution, too. “Fish and wildlife” is simply not an adequate synonym for “endangered species.” But I see that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency that maintains the list, refers to endangered species on its program’s home page as “imperiled animals and plants.”
I guess they got the memo.
Here’s another tidbit from the “Language of Conservation Memo 2013” — “biodiversity” is a “bad word to avoid.”
The memo doesn’t explain this: The word simply appears on a list. So I’m left to wonder why one of my favorite terms is not a favorite among survey respondents.
I suppose “biodiversity” sounds technical because of the prefix. “Bio” isn’t hard to understand, but it does set us squarely in the realm of biological science. To many people, science can be scary and/or boring. And some people think “diversity” is a liberal code-word for “anything goes.” I won’t get into politics here, but I can see how adding a scary or boring prefix to a politically charged word might give you a bad word to avoid.
To replace it, the memo suggests using “fish and wildlife.” I don’t think “fish and wildlife” means the same thing as “biodiversity.” The former is just critters; the latter is a wide range of different types of organisms, connected by their existence in a given place at a given time. “Fish and wildlife,” while simpler, does not convey that intended flavor.
Also, “biodiversity” is the central concept in one of my favorite books. Edward O. Wilson’s “The Diversity of Life” describes how life on earth evolved and argues that biological diversity itself is worth conserving. When I read Wilson’s book in 1994, it showed me that science writing can be accessible and lyrical, passionate and accurate — setting a standard I will spend a lifetime striving to achieve.
There may be sentimental reasons behind my reluctance to give up “biodiversity” entirely, but I can take the memo’s advice by using it more strategically. If “fish and wildlife” will do just as well, I can use that. But to convey the idea of multiple species and their connections, I can still call on “biodiversity.” I’ll just check to make sure the context supports it, rather than assuming my reader will fill in all that this nuanced, beautiful word means to me.
This post is in response to “The Language of Conservation 2013: Updated Recommendations on How to Communicate Effectively to Build Support for Conservation.” This representative national survey of American voters was commissioned by The Nature Conservancy in 2012 and conducted by a bipartisan research team.
Drinking bird-friendly coffee is a delicious way to help our feathered friends!
Originally posted on American Bird Conservancy Blog:
by Scott Weidensaul
Migratory birds—which must overcome so many natural challenges as they journey from one end of the globe to another—are having a much harder time overcoming the obstacles that humans have added to the mix: habitat loss, environmental contaminants, climate change, and a lot more.