Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Why? #phenology

I've no doubt that much of my interest in phenology can be attributed to reading Gary Snyder and Robin Wall Kimmerer and their concepts regarding how it's only being polite to know the names of the neighbors; in part it's due to my interest in trout fishing and the questions of what's hatching that the trout may be feeding on (there are very few grasshoppers in mid-April, often lots in August); and in part to my interest in local food foraging and eating (looking for morel mushrooms in August is as productive around here as looking for blackberries in early May). Plus, there's a whole list of things I (we) might be able to do with local plants that I (we) usually don't bother with. I'm slowly learning about them while picking and choosing my way through the entirely fascinating Strength of the Earth-the Classic Guide to Ojibwe Uses of Native Plants, compiled by Frances Densmore. It lists the following categories of uses:
  • Plants as food
  • Plants as medicine
  • Plants used in dyes
  • Plants used as charms
  • Plants used in useful and decorative arts
Just like Sherlock Holmes, I've cleverly figured out that before any plant could be safely and effectively put to use, it would need to be accurately identified. A great aid in this, better than any field guide since it provides real plants with labels (and a representation of Frances Densmore), is the Minnesota Goose Garden up near Sandstone. We've visited in late Autumn and again in early Spring and learned something worthwhile each time we've been there, including how sometimes a plant can look different than it does even in the best set of photographs.

"The earth is what we all have in common." ~Wendell Berry
"The earth is what we all have in common." ~Wendell Berry
Photo by J. Harrington

There's at least one other fundamental reason that makes it worthwhile to observe phenology. It comes from one of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry, who wrote "The Earth is what we all have in common."  [pictured above on the parking lot wall at St. Croix Falls library] Not everyone sees it that way and I've learned that I enjoy the company of those who do more than that of those who don't, who see the earth only as an aggregation of natural resources to be exploited rather than as home. Phenology becomes a way to meet others who share values I find important and satisfying to live by. For a very related perspective on these themes, read, or reread, Robert Traver's Testament of a Fisherman.

Now, instead of writing about phenology, let me note that yellow hawkweed is blooming, yesterday's wishing Spring "au devoir" seems premature in today's 60ish temperatures, and I'm grateful for readers who gently point us in a more correct direction when we mistakenly label one of our "discoveries" incorrectly. Thanks, Molly. I fixed yesterday's wood Canada anemone.

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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