Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Song of the Plants
This is a picture of the first quince blossom I saw this year, taken February 25. But I didn't choose this picture to illustrate that important phenological event but simply because it's the best photograph I've taken to illustrate the rather mysterious topic of this blog.
When I first launched my project of getting to know the plants in my urban neighborhood, it wasn't really because I wanted to learn their Latin names or know what date they bloomed in a particular year but because I wanted a deeper connection with the natural world.
All through February I've been tracking and annotating the buds and blossoms, the proliferating of twigs on branches and the reddish haze at the top of the linden trees, even the elusive scents that are drifting through the spring air. But my phenological observations while helping me engage more with the natural world, still keep me at a distance. The plants are the objects of my scrutiny but they are still objects, data pinned in the pages of my notebook.
Then about a week ago I was walking home from work in the dark. And I became aware that my mind was churning over my list of to-dos, as it used to do during my walks before I became distracted by the plants. One of the lovely things about walking as a phenologist is that I'm freed from this sort of incessant mind chatter. But in the dark, it seemed I had no plants to observe.
My friend Janis had just remarked on how much she was enjoying reading one of Stephen Buhner's books about plants. He writes about how native healers in different cultures learn about the herbs they use medicinally. They say the plants speak to them, some say the plants even have specific songs that tell something about their character.
I wondered if I could tune in to the plants in the dark, so I walked a little more slowly, with curiosity, my head tilted a bit to see what I could hear. I was blown away by what I experienced. Every plant I passed was singing its own song. Mind you, I heard no distinct words, no instructions for their uses. But their personalities were distinct. Some were lively, some greedy, some dispirited (that was the English ivy).
I've felt the energy of trees before (I wrote an essay for my newsletter on tree hugging) but
this was more like walking through halos of energy, or clouds of lyrics sung in a foreign language. Walking in the dark past the plants and being aware of their presence was a miracle. I think maybe life is really like this all the time but we don't notice it.