Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Small wonders

"Maybe the idea of the world as flat isn't a tribal memory or an archetypal memory, but something far older - a fox memory, a worm memory, a moss memory.

Memory of leaping or crawling or shrugging rootlet by rootlet forward, across the flatness of everything.

To perceive of the world as round needed something else - standing up! - that hadn't yet happened.

What a wild family! Fox and giraffe and wart hog, of course. But these also: bodies like tiny strings, bodies like blades and blossoms! Cord grass, Christmas fern, soldier moss! And here comes grasshopper, all toes and knees and eyes, over the little mountains of dust.

When I see the black cricket in the woodpile, in autumn, I don't frighten her. And when I see the moss grazing upon the rock, I touch her tenderly,

sweet cousin."
-Mary Oliver, Winter Hours

Not a moss, but a lichen, which I learned are composed of both fungi and algae growing together in a mutually beneficial relationship. The fungi provides the structure, as well as water and minerals. The algae, because of their chlorophyll, produce the food and the whole organism is happy.


These are British Soldier Lichen, so named because their red fruiting bodies reminded some botanist of the Redcoats of the Revolutionary War. I wished I'd had my hand lens along to have a better look at these - they're so tiny!

Watching the other naturalists during our walk the other day in the pinelands made me appreciate how different we nature-enthusiasts are from ordinary people who walk through the world without really seeing much. The *plant person* along spent most of her time trying to separate the various members of the heath family by their leaves alone. Would you know a blueberry, from a huckleberry, from a dangleberry without the flowers to give a clue? Would you taste a bit of teaberry leaf to confirm your ID by the spicy wintergreen flavor? We did! We oohed and aahed over the perched barred owl, even offered scope views to passersby - all of whom refused to even stop for a look. What's up with that?

I wonder if it doesn't simply come down to a lack of curiosity. Maybe I think of it that way because I seem to be curious about most anything. Also, I imagine that we place a value on these things that others do not. Why is it, do you think, that some people can sense wonder and others just wonder what all the fuss is about?


Cathy said...

Nuh -uh! No way - that people declined the offer to look at the owls! That is SO SAD. Remember the quote - can't remember - is it "Auntie Mame" where she remarks that "life's a banquet and most poor fools are starving to death"?

Mary Oliver's application of the phrase "sweet cousin" to moss is the wisdom of recognizing the connectedness amongst all life. That is why we're curious - we want to understand this miraculous place we've been set down in, together. (To paraphrase Annie Dillard rather badly)

robin andrea said...

That Mary Oliver piece is just stunning, and your accompanying observations are perfect. Some who stand on two legs don't perceive the whole of it, even though the opportunity is at hand.

Mary said...

Excellent post, Laura. Leads to thinking...

We are all born with natural instinct to be curious of life around us. People lose that curiosity in their lives for many reasons. We are the fortunate ones who have held on to our desire to look, listen, and observe.

I often wonder who notices the lizards racing along the concrete or the moths that gather around the doorway entrance to our building at work. Or, who else noticed the frightened baby squirrel clinging to the brick near the entrance. Only me.

John said...

I like that lichen photo. Are those fruiting bodies on some kind of stalks?

RuthieJ said...

Hi Laura,
I don't get it....people were out hiking in a nature area and yet they turned down the chance to see a Barred Owl. Isn't that the whole idea of going to a nature area?

When I see or hear about something like this, I always tell myself that if everyone liked the same thing, there wouldn't be enough to go around. We should consider ourselves the lucky ones that there's still enough to go around and that we're doing what we can to experience and preserve it.

bunnygirl said...

One often hears parents say that their children make them aware of the unique and wonderful things in the world around them. I always think, "How sad you've lost the ability to see these things without help!"

I remember one day me, my boss and a salesman were all driving back to the office in separate cars from a job site. All the way back, the sky was full of the most amazing nearly-geometric rows of puffy clouds! We got to the office at about the same time, and I said, "Wow, weren't those clouds amazing?"

My boss and the salesman looked at me like I was a delusional child. "Clouds? What clouds?"


Enjoy your world, Laura!

Susan Gets Native said...

I like lichen.

I think there is some sort of apparatus in our minds that can swing open or closed, and some people just have theirs stuck. Daily life, stress, worry...they make some people blind to all the wonder.
But who knows...maybe some of those people thought about barred owls later and went home and looked up some photos on the Web and now are sorry that they didn't look?
Thank goodness there are people like you!

Jayne said...

Because some people are too self absorbed in their own worlds to see what's around them? That's amazing to me as well, that people don't "see" what is beautifully abundant around them, and don't seem the least bit curious. Cool lichen!

dguzman said...

I was going to wonder in type what in the world was wrong with those people, but then I read RuthieJ's comment on how, if everyone liked the same things, there wouldn't be enough to go around. Now THERE'S a truth for all times.

My two cents on the curiosity factor: I think some people just don't have that gene or something. It's perplexing when I see curiosity lacking in adults, but when I see it lacking in children--whoa, now that's just sad. That's why I think some people are just born without the curious gene. I'm sad for them, but it makes me extra happy to be curious to the point of distraction. Drives some people crazy sometimes (including Kat) but it's just part of who I am. I just love every speck of nature out there!

Patrick Belardo said...

I just learned something new about lichen. I always thought it was just fungi. Thanks!

And about your curiosity comment, I think there's a lot to it. I just don't *get* why people would not be interested in seeing a Barred Owl or learning about a plant.

KGMom said...

Why can some people sense wonder and others just wonder what it's all about?
WOW--that is an endless question. Thus it ever was--go back to our ancestors who stood up. And I will bet there were two types even then.
Of course, today, loads of completely idiotic things pretend to be important, and the media covers such idiocy never-endingly. Thank goodness people like you are still out there tramping & exploring & extolling.

rcwbiologist said...

Great site, I got here by way of the Dharma bums. Great question in your post. My wife and I were once hiking in Sequoia with 2 friends. We were birding and examining everything around us as usual. They had never thought of doing what we were doing, which I found odd at the time. After talking, we realized that their parents had never showed them the wonders around them. I wonder if the individuals that don't take interest were never taught as kids about the wonders in the natural world.

mon@rch said...

I be liking Lichen! Wonderful post and also love your photo you captured!

NatureWoman said...

Oh, British Soldier Lichen!! I'm been on the lookout for this since I learned about it! It's so cool you posted it here Laura! I don't know why some people aren't curious. I could stand in one spot in the woods for what seems like an eternity and find so much to check out.

Dorothy said...

Thank you for the chance to take a walk along with you Laura. I too marvel when people seem so unaware of the beauty of nature all around.
Everything is interesting to me and there is so much to learn about and see, and such little time to do it. I think we are the lucky ones, those of us who notice God's gifts of nature.