An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 28, 2006
written at Hacienda San Juan just east of Telchac Pueblo, Yucatán, MÉXICO

ON THE JOY OF STUDYING
FLOWER ANATOMY

studying flower anatomy

Most mornings Vladimir drops by with a handful of flowers and for two or three hours we sit at a big table in the semi-open "Pavilion" next to my lodging. With our books open and using a hand lens (jeweler's loupe), we dissect and analyze the blossoms, figuring out which species they are. You can see a splendid picture of Vladimir furrowing his noble brow over the identity of a roadside blossom above.

It's enormously gratifying to see Vladimir getting hooked on the experience, and learning his lessons fast. However, "learning" isn't what I regard as the main purpose for the exercise. To me, the process itself is what's important. What's important is that two people sit for awhile on a pleasant morning filling their minds and spirits with the stuff of flower anatomy.

Part of why doing this is important is simple to explain. It bears upon my belief that nature study is therapeutic and soul nourishing. The main way that works is this:

Instead of occupying our brains with the affairs of everyday life -- the body's hungers and woes, concerns about status and identity, broodings about what did and did not happen or might happen -- we are immersing our psyches into the mystery of the mustard flower's curious four long stamens and two short ones, or maybe the richly brown basal cross-markings of the white-flowered Neomarica's obovate outer perianth segments. Just imagine how a day's general feeling is transformed by a vagrant scent of dissected gardenia blossom lying on a wooden table.

To a certain extent the brain is like a box that can hold just so much. You start filling it with flower stuff, and other less agreeable stuff starts toppling out. The end result is a brain that's more flowery than before.

Another way of saying this is that we are displacing self-centered, often unsustainable and even self-destructive thinking patterns with cogitations suggested by universal, sustainable, natural paradigms. Seeing an unusual pollination strategy designed to assure that a blossom will have its bee, we are confirming the interdependency of all things. Smelling the gardenia on the table, we are assured of the fundamentally benevolent nature of the Universal Creative Force.

A mustard flower is the true prophet.

Of course the average person is bound to reply, "Sure, that's nice, but this is real life, bills have to be paid and work must be done."

So, that's the crux of the matter. The matter is that the definitions of "real life" and "what must be done" are more open to debate than the vast majority of us recognize.

I profoundly believe that most of us most of the time are doing things not really needing to be done. In fact, most of what most of us do most of the time is ultimately destructive in terms of maintaining a sustainable living space, and often self-destructive as well in terms of our enjoying healthy bodies and souls.

Where did the idea come from that we all need to buy so much and live such neat, antiseptic lives? Why do so few of us experiment with lives that are voluptuously yet somewhat ascetically feral? Is there not a mellow, microbe-friendly, flower-sniffing Middle Path between neurotic cleanliness and orderliness on the one hand, and lazy rottenness and degeneration on the other? Cannot "real life" be a Middle Path coursing through a field of flowers, and "what must be done" be the sniffing of those flowers?

I would be honored if you would browse the links at my web page "Understanding Backyard Flowers" at http://www.backyardnature.net/pollen.htm.

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