by Nelson Holmes
CUCHARA- A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go hiking through Cucharas Canyon with a group of friends. What made this trip special was that we were all members of an odd tribe; those who don’t understand our passion may call us “nature nerds,” and until we find a better means of self identifying, this will have to suffice. All of us seemed to have a desire to know the names of the plants and creatures around us and to know how those things of nature interrelate.
Typically, those who know me well simply tolerate my incessant obsession with remembering the scientific names for the living world offering in response an exasperated sigh or eye roll. Nothing is quite as condescending as the as the “there, there” grin which leaves the recipient feeling like a mental deficient on a day trip. But on this occasion the self-quizzing and exchange of information was infused with a joy like to that of speaking one’s native tongue after a long time in exile.
In order to explain this passion for knowing what things are let me offer the analogy of the library. When one first enters the stacks one might find the volumes mildly curious. One is struck by the color of the books, the fact that the volumes are, seemingly, arranged in lines or piles, is pleasing to the eye. The books have an odor that is not experienced elsewhere and upon inspection look to bear peculiar and individual designs. The library can simply be appreciated for its particular comforts and design; one can wander through and enjoy its aspects in the broadest sense.
Being obsessively curious I wish to take the books off the shelves; to know their titles and revel in the experiences and knowledge they contain. I might first have to learn to decipher the code contained within the tomes but the process instills a comfort and familiarity and soon I’m reading all I can. My connection to the library becomes intimate and my appreciation deepens.
The same is true for nature. One can enjoy the natural world in the broadest, picture postcard, sense and derive great enjoyment. But once you pick up a volume, maybe wildflowers, and open it you’ll find the world becomes richer and more detailed. Rather than an undifferentiated landscape of brown and green, the world falls into fine focus and we begin to see so much that was previously overlooked. Our attraction to wildflowers then leads to pollinators which turns our attention to the insect and bird worlds. As we become more intimate with the world around us we see an incredible array of dynamic connections and subtleties. We may then, in a very personal way, come to a greater understanding of our own place in the mix; seeking to define ourselves by making choices that validate, and give appreciation to, the natural alchemy around us. This chain reaction expands our definition of what we define as beautiful and soon the elegance of a slime-mold or the vibrant color of a Harvest Mite causes us to pause and wonder.
Then again…maybe it’s just me. But I think not, and this is an addiction I would encourage everyone to cultivate. Just follow your fascination!