Scientist with the heart of a philosopher

Dr. David Baird has a favoured quote: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

The closing remarks in Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, sum it up for the 90-year-old scientist.

The beauty in nature is something Baird has shared in a variety of ways, one of them being 24 different books.

“The first 10 were easy though,” he said, seated amid a flurry of his own photography in his North Saanich home. “They were guides for national parks.”

With six different university degrees, the Order of Canada, and jobs ranging from the lowest of deck hands to university professor and director of a national museum, Baird could fill another 24 books. But Baird prefers to revel in the latest a little longer. “I’m still quite fond of this one,” he said, flipping the pages of Glimpses of Beauty in Time … an invitation.

In his early days Baird taught geology at three different universities over two decades while prospecting and mapping all over remote parts of Canada from coast to coast. He was the provincial geologist in Newfoundland and was instrumental in the development of Gros Morne National Park. 

Along the way he’s captured many a moment on film.

“I’m surrounded by old cameras and things I’ve used in the past,” he said, gesturing to the book-laden shelves and photo-covered walls of his den.

“I wanted to write a little something about life and philosophy,” he said. “There’s awe in beauty and wonder in the workings of natural law … despite hardship and extinction the story of life on earth is one of beauty and wonder.”

His personal life lessons range from his earliest days as the first son of Canadian medical missionaries working in China, to his retirement in North Saanich. The book holds images that cover an immense period of time, from the dinosaur age, to fleeting moments with seagulls. Each image is partnered with a paragraph or two, telling a tale — at times with humour — and offering a glimpse into the moment Baird experienced while capturing the image and why it’s important.

“It was really written to bring pleasure to me, and also to others,” he said. “It’s a vanity book from beginning to end.”