Chris Buddle: Artist, poet, conservationist

All proceeds from sales of his new book will go toward preserving the Creek 53 watershed in Hudson, Quebec

Most members of the McGill community know Chris Buddle as a professor, an entomologist, a researcher, or a McGill administrator. But Buddle is a man of many more talents.

On May 22, he will launch A Portrait of Astonishing Nature, a remarkable collection of original poetry and watercolour paintings that pay loving tribute to the plants and animals around us.

“The book combines a lot of my passions and love of life and the natural world,” says Buddle, an entomologist who does watercolour paintings at his kitchen table and carries a notebook full of haiku jotted down while taking the train to and from work.

Ode to the natural world

Chris Buddle as painted by his youngest son, Peter

The book is comprised of 53 original poems and watercolours celebrating the plants and animals that can be found, or once were found, in the Creek 53 watershed near Hudson, Quebec. The citizen-led Creek Conservancy Trust, of which Buddle is a trustee, is dedicated to preserving the land for future generations. Every dollar raised in book sales will support the ongoing efforts to protect the wild beauty of Creek 53. “I don’t take a cent,” says Buddle. “Everyone who buys a book is doing their part to preserve nature and wildlife.”

Running alphabetically from Acer saccharum (sugar maple) to Typha latifolia (bulrush), the profiles are whimsical and evocative. Buddle’s ode to the turkey vulture (“I love turkey vultures!” he says):

palate for carrion
soar, smell, descend, and feast
bald beauty

“Turkey vultures, don’t have feathers on their head because they are always sticking their snouts inside carrion,” says Buddle, ever the scientist. “They spend a lot of time in the air, looking for their next meal, and they are beautiful – in their own right. I’m telling the story of each species as seen through my eyes.”

Also included in the back section of the book, are one-paragraph summaries of each species written in laypersons terms. “I hope the art and poetry piques people’s curiosity to learn more,” he says.

“I think the union of art and science is where great things happen because different mediums can inspire in different ways.”

Nurturing a love of nature

Buddle has been painting and writing poetry “for years and years,” he says. His love of nature has stretched as far back as he can remember, nurtured by his mother and father, a biology teacher “who was always in nature.”

Chris Buddle’s new book is a confluence of art and science that celebrates the natural world

“I grew up north of Peterborough, and one of my earliest memories was picking cranberries in the fall from a canoe. We did lots of canoe-camping trips” he says. “In high school and university, I realized a career that allowed me to be in and learn more about nature was a good one. Much of who I am today can be traced directly to my parents giving me the opportunity to be a wild child.”

Buddle followed his calling, becoming a spider-hunting entomologist who was as comfortable high above the ground in trees studying canopy ecology or on his knees on the Yukon tundra hunting spiders and pseudoscorpions.

In 2016, Buddle undertook a new challenge, as Dean of Students, a position he held until 2019. Today he serves as Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Planning). Regardless of the demands placed upon him, however, he always finds a way to return to nature, be it leading the Desert Ecology field course in Arizona, taking his dog on long walks in the woods, or spending time at Creek 53.

An avid reader and cyclist, Buddle also plays the banjo occasionally and is rumoured to make a delicious sourdough loaf. When asked where he finds the time, Buddle smiles. “I know it sounds counterintuitive, but I find the more time I have, the less I get done,” he says.

On top of raising funds for the Creek 53 Conservancy Trust, Buddle hopes the book inspires people to connect with nature on some level.

“I would love it if people picked up a sketchbook and a notebook from the dollar store and just started jotting down their own observations and coming up with their own portraits of nature from their backyards,” he says. “You can have a lifelong love affair with nature – and you can start at any time.”

Chris Buddle will launch his book A Portrait of Astonishing Nature on Wednesday, May 22, at 3:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. on the lower level of the LE JAMES bookstore (680 Sherbrooke Street west). Refreshments will be served.

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