Today’s Thoughts: Listening to Mother Nature

When I moved up to Vermont, almost everyone I encountered asked, “have you ever been through a Vermont winter?” When I’d answer no, I was met with shaking heads, “uh oh”, or “oh, just you wait.”Now we are moving into February, and have only had a couple of snow falls since the new year. While walking this morning, my boots were met with mud puddles and soppy snow, melting from this week’s 40 degree weather. Though I’m relived that I don’t have to shovel myself out of the driveway or battle icy roads (yet, anyway), I feel strangely moved by this unlikely winter. And not in a good way.

“Warm winters” happen, but this winter’s warmth was record breaking for many regions across the country. Something isn’t quite right, and Mother Nature is letting us know. Buds are budding, daffodils are sprouting, and the birds and insects are beginning to emerge from rest, looking for food that isn’t necessarily there – and if it is, it likely shouldn’t be, at least, not yet.

“Nature is alive and talking to us. This is not a metaphor.” Terrence McKenna, ethnobotanist

My scientific knowledge is limited beyond the field of geology, but from my experience working in gardens and on farms, these signs – this language of creation, is not something to be ignored. Though I don’t think we (general society), will realize the effects of this warm weather until spring time, when those buds and sprouts that are lively now have died off from a cold spell, I do think that we can continue to or begin to cultivate an awareness to these signs, this language.

Flower Clock, from NY Times

In a recent NY Times article, Five Minutes to Moonflower: Planting a Clock that Tracks Hours by Flowers, the Linnean concept of the “flower clock” is explored:

“Based on field observations, [Linnaeus] divided flowers into three categories. The meteorici open and close with the weather. The tropici follow the changing hours of daylight. And the aequinoctales, Linnaeus wrote, “open precisely at a certain hour of the day and generally shut up every day at a determinate hour.”

From this third category, the aequinoctales, Linnaeus compiled a list of a few dozen plants to open and close with the hours: hawkweed, garden lettuce, marigold, day lily. Horticulture meets horology.”

Telling time based on the opening and closing of flowers – “Who needs a watch when the flowers know the time?”

What a beautiful and intriguing concept. Interestingly, I think it is the intrigue of this flower clock that is most beautiful; “Over the years, the Linnean Society has received regular inquiries about the flower clock and how to make one.” This intrigue of nature being able to do the work of a human-made mechanism being so foreign, interesting, yet perfectly sensible, embodies at once, I think, both our distanced relationship from nature, as well as our essential rootedness in creation. How funny for flowers to take the place of a clock, but how funny for our clock to be the arbiter of all time. Who are we to say? We are, after all, the ones who give the clock face its meaning.

I do not admit to having any of the answers, and honestly, I do not think anyone does. But, I think there is much goodness that can come from a posture of awareness and gratitude to the signs that Mother Nature gives us – both positive and negative, and that interpreting those signs will undoubtedly offer us more clarity as we move forward.

“We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.”
Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House




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