Editor's Letter: Nature in Latin America

By June Carolyn Erlick

The blue New England sky shed a diffuse light through the leaves of the trees in the ample DRCLAS yard at 61 Kirkland. I was scurrying from the office, intent on going wherever I was going. Noel "Missy" Holbrook, a member of the DRCLAS executive committee and a biologist, was walking her dog in the yard, so I paused to talk.

It started as chitchat, what a beautiful day, what a beautiful yard. And then Missy commented to me that she brought her students to our yard and taught them about the gingko, ash and oak trees there. I had never thought of what type of trees inhabited the yard. I remembered that once I had squashed some smelly fruit: that was the gingko tree, a unique tree with no living relatives.

Suddenly, with just that short conversation, I was seeing our yard in a different light, a place to be taught and to be observed.

I'd been thinking about doing a ReVista issue on flora and fauna for a long time. As a matter of fact, I'd been collecting newspaper and magazines clips and story notes in a folder called "birds and the bees" for well over two years. Yet, I was surprised when I began to solicit and edited articles how the world of nature opened a multiplicity of perspectives into citizenry, health, globalization, conservation, history and international relations-and even political protest.

I found that the categories I'd created for the articles did not quite do them justice. Perhaps, because the stories deal with nature, their very themes are organic, linking back and forth across countries and disciplines.

I was no longer surprised when I received an e-mail from Connie Rinaldo, Librarian at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, with a quotation from Thomas Henry Huxley as part of its return address: "To a person uninstructed in natural history, his country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall."

On reading that quote, I understood how much the choice of flora and fauna for the 10th anniversary issue of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies was more fitting than I had envisioned. I had selected the theme because of David Rockefeller's interest in entomology; instead, the theme taught me that nature reflects the DRCLAS mission: to increase knowledge of the cultures, economies, histories, environment, and contemporary affairs of Latin America, as well as to foster cooperation and understanding among the peoples of the Americas, and to contribute to democracy, social progress and sustainable development throughout the hemisphere.

As you read the pages of this ReVista, celebrating the 10th anniversary of DRCLAS, I hope the focus on flora and fauna will open up new connections and perspectives about Latin America for you, just as that conversation about trees in our yard now makes every stroll to work a different one for me.

See also: Editor's Letter