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What is a naturalist? And why are there so many of them in the Tehachapi area?

Land of Four Seasons


September 12, 2020

Jon Hammond

Cobalt milkweed beetles on narrow-leafed Milkweed plants were one of the first bugs that captured my attention when I was a toddler.

"I would propose that a naturalist is someone whose curiosity is boundless. He or she is interested in kinkajous and sticklebacks, in astronomy, French wine, magpies, baseball, prairie rattlesnakes, quantum mechanics, corn on the cob, great sperm whales, and even Bolsheviks and hummingbirds. A naturalist tries to delight in everything, is in love with the whole of life, and hopes to walk in harmony across this Earth." – John Treadwell Nichols

I consider the above quote to be one of the best I have ever encountered on the subject of naturalists. I have always been fascinated by the world around me, and John Nichols' quote succinctly captures my worldview.

Some of my very earliest memories are of exploring the outside world of the Tehachapi Mountains. I wanted to look under boards for bugs and lizards, and to collect the assorted feathers, rocks, rusted square nails, seeds, broken pottery shards and other random objects I'd find on the ground.

It has been observed that most children start out in life as naturalists: picking up ladybugs, watching busy ants, gathering interesting rocks, blowing the fluff off dandelion heads – just exploring and learning about their world. And often making wise and accurate observations.

For some reason, many kids lose this natural curiosity, or it gets channeled into a much narrower direction. School begins and children are usually taught to focus on human activity.

Not me. My sense of wonder and curiosity have only grown with time. The more I've learned about plants and animals and weather and geology and Native culture and a hundred other topics, the more I want to explore and learn still more.

And I'm happy that I'm not alone! The Tehachapi Mountains seem to attract others who delight in the natural world. Or perhaps living here awakens the sleeping curiosity of people who move here.

Through 40 years of writing and taking photos for Tehachapi publications, I have encountered so many other residents who cherish the natural world that surrounds them. These are people who delight in a new spotted fawn, in the gray fox and her babies near their woodshed, by a male northern mockingbird singing on a still summer night, by the blackbirds morning bathing in a sprinkler, by the pollinators who visit their flowers, by the cloud formations that grace our skies.

When they share their own experiences and observations, our collective knowledge of the area grows. There are many naturalists in the Tehachapi Mountains. Their views are all over the political spectrum, especially in these divisive times, but they have a common love for the natural world around them. Their curiosity and fascination propels them through life, and makes their lives more interesting.

Jon Hammond

An acorn woodpecker gathers an acorn in the autumn.

I'd like to close with this quote from a famed naturalist, the great oceanographer Jacques Cousteau: "Sometimes we are lucky enough to know that our lives have been changed, to discard the old, embrace the new, and run headlong down an immutable course. It happened to me on that summer's day when my eyes were opened to the sea."

Enjoy the beauty of life in the Tehachapi Mountains.

Jon Hammond is a fourth generation Kern County resident who has photographed and written about the Tehachapi Mountains for 38 years. He lives on a farm his family started in 1921, and is a speaker of Nuwä, the Tehachapi Indian language. He can be reached at


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