It's amazing what you can notice when you care enough and are interested enough to slow down and study something. I have yet another cold (that makes three this summer, but I think these colds are related to entire days spent sanding paint off the windows. So, maybe they're not colds, but some kind of respiratory irritation.) This weekend I felt pretty low energy and didn't join Chip on either of his fun walks in the woods. But Sunday, after a long morning of napping, I armed myself with two guide books, my little backpack, a camera and left the house for an adventure.
I made it about a quarter mile down the road in an hour and a half. In that short distance I identified 20 different flowers and brought home two edible specimens. The language used to describe plants is like any topic specific language--intimidating and unhelpful at first. It can make you downright angry. "Why can't they just use normal words that mean something, think they're so special with their fancy words, stupid crap...grmbl grmbl, grmbl". But, despite yourself, you slowly learn how the words and descriptions match up with the features you're observing, things start to make sense and soon you know what to look for. Are the leaves toothed, smooth, hairy, downy, on a stalk, elliptical, opposite, whorled, alternate? How many petals on the flower and are they scalloped, indented, bent backwards, or tightly clustered? Words that once seemed only to obfuscate now begin to illuminate.
For example: "Smooth, purplish, frequently arching stem covered with whitish bloom and bearing scattered clusters of yellow flower heads in the leaf axils, with a large terminal cluster. Leaves: long, stalkless, elliptic, tapering at both ends, toothed, sharply pointed." (Nat'l Audubon field guide to NA flowers) To read it sitting in your living room it's just a bunch of useless words. But when you're bent over a flower, poking and studying, the description comes to life and you find yourself having that weird feeling where you think you've discovered something so important and want to shout to someone, "Well, would you look at that. That's it exactly! I've found a Blue Stemmed Goldenrod!"
Before this moment you didn't even know there were multiple types of that boring old Goldenrod stuff and now in one afternoon you've identified at least four obvious varieties. And for some reason this interaction makes a ubiquitous, common roadside flower special to you. It becomes unique.
I could go on about how you can apply this to life in general, but that feels to didactic for my mood this morning. Instead, maybe you should find a guide book that's sitting on a bookshelf or around your "living" room and take it out for a walk and really, really look at something. Or I suppose, to take that idea even further, maybe we should all really, really look at something without a guide book and then create our own unique description. Now, that would be something!