The much weather-delayed botanical exploration that froggies315, Srucara, and I led was part of our third web-event, the other parts being the class notes and a reflection. Here is that reflection, inspired by the class exploration, but also by recent readings, memories, musings, and opinions.
What is a native plant? It is one that grows naturally in a specific area, untouched by humans. Plant diversity is essential for the proper response to ecological shifts and changes, and the parallel evolution of animals and plants in an area means that the native plants are the best food and the best material for native animals. Apparently it is possible for non-native plants to become naturalized if they are introduced to the area’s landscape and find a way to adapt to the ecosystem around them (reference). The more aggressive of these that are disadvantageous to the natural landscape we refer to as weeds. Native plants are at risk of being displaced and driven to extinction, and with their exodus come changes in the landscape’s diversity and quality of life (reference). Often these aggressive invasive species follow those who introduced them to the landscape; here in North America the white man brought the species from Europe, and as he moves across the continent disturbing the land with trails, roads, buildings, and farmlands, these weeds follow him.
In our class we have a collage of individuals with very different histories with the landscape. I can’t pretend to know them. But overall there was a feeling of desire to be more attached to our landscape paired with the knowledge that we were not. Where better to begin the connection to the Earth than at the home? The goal of knowledge of this site we call Bryn Mawr is central to the movement we have undertaken in this course: our site sits, Harriton House, the botanical and geological rambles.
I was excited to undertake a project different than a formal (or exploratory) paper. Over the course of my site sits I have come away with many photographs of what I have seen, but they are flat once uploaded to the internet, devoid of texture, smell, and depth. Looking at these photos I know that no one else can experience what I saw the way I did, even if they had been beside me; but giving at a photograph on a screen added even another level of removal.
Its always surprising to me what my mind chooses to remember; looking back on my introductory biology course two years ago, when I first went out into Morris Woods, certain things are foregrounded. Ironically, I was also confined to a boot then… It took Srucara’s reminders to coax some experiences back into memory. Is it that I had forgotten, or that I just couldn’t quite remember it right then?
I think with age comes some forms of timidness. Then with more age comes a rejection of that which you took on in order to conform, to avoid being the odd one out. Sardines is that for me. I can remember playing sardines with joy in the woods as dusk fell when I was young at camp, and around my friend’s houses when we gathered for our monthly mother-daughter book group. Then I hated it. You were either in, or you were out; found or seeking, hiding or searching. My searching became a way of being with the group, the goal not being to win, but just not to lose at any cost. When did this transition happen? I can’t say. It was a fear of not being able to find what I was looking for.
Direction. While we wanted to let the class explore the woods we also recognized the need for direction. Srucara’s engaging lesson on bushes, trees, vines, and groundcovers was based on experience: feeling, crushing, smelling. Moving. I hoped my “field guide” would provide both a reinforcement of Srucara’s lessons as well as a chance for people to branch out, to explore. We had hoped that everyone would spread out more, move away from the pack and engage in self-discovery. As the initial minutes passed people did, reaching and looking out, out at the surroundings. Froggies315’s piece of the puzzle was the most exploratory, our interactions with our surroundings being taken from academic to primal. Oh how quickly I found my tree, the way the root system stretched out, the two types of vines winding their way up the trunk, the way my arms only went perhaps halfway around the massive trunk, the curvature of the individual grooves of the bark…
Movement. After our walk Anne remarked how stagnant our classes feel, how we needed more movement. I am beginning to think that froggies315’s is right: how much can writing about our experiences do? I can read, I can appreciate, I can even learn. But the learning is only mind deep. I have always had trouble reading instructions. I often choose not to even bother trying, it’s as if they are written in a different language. Show me how to do something and I can do it. Muscle memory allows me to grab a bike in the summer and ride away, a year after I last did it. I can catch things I drop before I even realize I drop them. I can go into work and set up the dining hall without thinking about what I’m doing, and I have to remind myself that the new workers won’t just march into the refrigerator and come out with the blueberries; I have to rack my brain to come up with the words to explain its location. These things are skin, muscle deep.
Our connection with the environment, with the world that provides us with all we need, must be deeper than the brain, deeper than the skin, deeper than the muscle. It must be in our human essence. I think that is what Terry Tempest Williams was deflecting with that sharp metal knife slicing so easily through the green meat of the avocado- love is at our essence, and we have forgotten how to love. Our essence cannot just read about experience, it must touch, smell, taste, see, breath, drink.
I hope that our walk got us at least part of the way there. Standing together, holding hand with eyes cast down to the Earth or up towards the sky, we breathed and we felt together. Not exactly the wilderness of the books we’ve read, but it is the wilderness of where we are planted now. Together.
The Nile Delta drains into the Mediterranean Sea in Northern Egypt. When I was younger I thought some magic made it run the opposite direction of most rivers in the world. Why does it run South to North? The reason is much more “logical”: it follows the decline of the land. Most bodies of water flow North to South because their source is in the mountains of the North, and they simply roll downhill until they drain at the mouth in the South. I think after learning something like this, most people say “Oh! How interesting,” and move forward. We need to stop and wonder at the way that leaves that look so similar can smell so different and perform so differently in the environment. We need to be in awe of a river flowing 4,130 miles, providing life to so many people, plants, animals, and the Earth. We need to look forward, to imagine an Earth where the rising of the sun tomorrow is not a certainty. I recently came across a quotation from Douglas Adams that read: “Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.” We have the ability to imagine the future, but we do so selectively and self-centrically. If we were evening thinking anthropocentrically then we would think of the children of tomorrow but we seem to lack the ability to feel for these future people, animals, plants: life. Love. We are in this together.