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Latin in Big Bend

My family just returned from a week long trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas.  No cell phones, no internet, just the amazing beauty of God’s mind-boggling creation.  You might think the middle of the West-Texas desert would be the last place on earth I could find any Latin – but you would be wrong!  As we explored the Chisos Basin and the Chihuahuan Desert Latin was all around us. 

There is an amazing variety of plant life, including the widest selection of cacti anywhere in the world.  I saw a variety of quercus (oak) and pinus (pine), kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel), leuchtenbergia principis (agave cactus), and fouquiera splendens (ocotill0) to name just a few.

Big Bend is a bird-watcher’s paradise where you can see just about every kind of raptor (Latin for “snatcher”) and hundreds of other bird species (Latin for kinds).  We ourselves identified bubo virginianus (great horned owl), pandion haliaetus (osprey), and two variety of vulturus (vulture).

Friends were fortunate enough to see canis latrans (coyote) and an ursus americanus (black bear) and her cub – from a safe distance.  My son caught a rana pipiens (leopard frog).  Fortunately, we did not see the crotalus atrox (rattle snake) or the felis concolor (mountain lion).

At night we gazed into the heavens at Ursa Maior  and Ursa Minor, Polaris, Orion, Canis Maior, and a whole host of brilliant constellations.

I guess you get my point.  Latin is the language of science, and science, from scire  (to know), is the gathering of knowledge about creation.  For generations Latin was the common tongue for the nations.  It therefore lent itself to be the language by which plants, animals, stars, rocks, and all other things were classified.  The coolest part of this system of classification is that these big fancy terms are not randomly assigned – they really mean something.  The Latin words often reflect the place where the creation may be found, the person who discovered it, or (coolest of all) the Latin name reveals something about the charater or nature of the creature or creation it represents.  For example crotalus atrox (rattle snake) means “horrible rattle.”  How fitting!  Ursus americanus means an “American bear.”  What insight the knowledge of Latin provides to knowing these creatures!  So the next time you plan a camping trip or a nature study, you might just add a good Latin-English dictionary to the packing list.

Nota Bene:  Lessons on the Latin nomenclature for plants, animals, and constellations are included in Latin Alive! Book 2 (scheduled for release in summer 2009).

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

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