Category Archives: More-than-human thoughts

Weeds need love too.

"That's just wild mustard." But its so pretty!

“That’s just wild mustard.” But its so pretty!

I turned in my last paper of the semester yesterday and the Virginia Master Naturalist Course I’ve been taking is nearing its end. Although, I look forward to actually having some leisure time for a few months, the end of both of these things is bittersweet. Like last semester, the three courses I’ve just finished toward my master’s degree in Anthrozoology from Canisius College have been more than enlightening. Almost every week I was thinking deeper and looking at human-non-human animal relationships from a different angle.

 

But the topic of today stems from the Virginia Master Naturalist class– which has made me see Virginia in a new light…actually its just made me SEE Virginia, period. I grew up here in the Shenandoah Valley and never really saw what was right under my nose. Now that I’ve actually taken the time to look, I’ve realized that I am truly fortunate to live in one of the most stunning places in the world.

 

One of the subjects I’ve taken a particular interest in is botany. As the botany lecture began, I thought, “This is too much, this is so not for me!”, but then we started doing some actual plant ID. And it clicked! Its like solving a mystery- once you know what clues to look for, you can follow them right to the answer! Yes, I am now an official WILDFLOWER NERD.

 

Bird's eye speedwell. If you blink, you'll miss it.

Bird’s eye speedwell. If you blink, you’ll miss it.

With the help of my handy-dandy Newcomb’s Guide and the endless wealth of knowledge and images that is the Internet, I’ve been on a mission to ID every wildflower I’ve come across. And in doing so, I’ve gotten to know some gorgeous little things that I’ve just been stomping all over my whole life!

 

Gill-over-the-ground. Who wouldn't want these cuties in their yard?

Gill-over-the-ground. Who wouldn’t want these cuties in their yard?

The pictures are taken with my new iPhone (oooh, ahhh! NOT.), which I hastily ordered after I soaked my old one in green tea, assuming it had just days to live. The thing is still alive and well and I feel a little ashamed that my consumerist brain couldn’t bear the thought of spending a few days without a phone and ordered a brand-spanking new iPhone 6 in a panic. I’m not majorly impressed as it seems pretty much exactly the same except that it doesn’t fit nicely into the back pocket of my jeans anymore. To make up for buying the stupid thing, I must use it as a force for good! So I’ve been documenting all my wildflowers on the iNaturalist app, a citizen science project that gathers everyone’s data.

 

Dame's Rocket. They smell nice.

Dame’s Rocket. They smell nice.

So my newfound fascination with these backyard beauties has gotten me thinking about how we (humans) categorize and rank EVERYTHING. Do you remember being a kid and picking dandelions before someone told you they were “just weeds’? Before you were indoctrinated with the merits of green lawns, when dandelions and buttercups were flowers just like roses and pansies and all flowers were beautiful? I’m learning to think like that again and it feels so good.

 

Oh my goodness. Thyme-leaved speedwell. Its just too cute.

Oh my goodness. Thyme-leaved speedwell. Its just too cute.

Science has realized that our obsession with green lawns, with the fertilizers and pesticides and merciless destruction of “weeds”, is a really bad thing. All the butterflies and bugs and pollinators need the wildflowers and the rest of the ecosystem needs the butterflies and bugs and pollinators!

 

Common blue violet. How many did you mow over this week?

Common blue violet. How many did you mow over this week?

More than anything, this world needs diversity. All of the kinds of plant life matter, all of the animals in an ecosystem have a part to play, and we need all sorts of humans to make LIFE work…and to make life have worth.

 

So let go of your green lawn this year, even just a little. Leave a place for the wildflowers and the bees and the toads. Forget what you learned about weeds and see the magnificence in every flower.

My favorite, Star of Bethlehem.

My favorite, Star of Bethlehem.

A Flash in the Pan (to borrow a ridiculously young phrase)

big bang

The Big Bang (astrobio.net)

 

During our annual pre-Christmas trip to Asheville, NC three months ago (how has it been that long?), my mom and I stopped into the Compleat Naturalist. Although, I’ve been coming to Asheville a couple of times of year for the past four years, I’d never been in this charming shop in Biltmore Village before. Pulled in by my newfound interest in bird watching and seeking a good bird book, I walked away with “Virginia Master Naturalists” scribbled on a business card.

After showing me some super fancy binoculars, the owner asked me where I was from. On telling him the name of my hometown in Virginia, he called over a young employee who had just moved from there. In hearing my interest in learning about all things “naturalist” she recommended I look into taking the Virginia Master Naturalist’s course. I am so glad I did.

With barely a glance at the details, I applied to the class and received a partial scholarship owing to my status of “poor grad student”. I probably should have paid more attention when signing up for 90-hour class, but that might have kept me from this great experience! This class makes me feel like a kid again, listening bright-eyed to lectures about weather patterns and topography, getting down and dirty in soil samples and rock classifications, and eagerly journaling every detail. I’ve only been to three classes so far but I love it!

I won’t soon forget the geology lecture. To fully understand how geology is the basis for everything, we went back to the beginning of time-as signified by the far end of a 300-foot rope strong horizontally on posts. Along this rope we hung major world events-beginning with the Big Bang and ending with humans. With the closer end of the 300-foot rope signifying the present day, we hung the placard for “Homo sapiens” at 1.015 inches in…and then looked way down into the darkness (it was 8pm by then) at the flashing light located 300 feet away. Past the dinosaurs (at about 20 feet in), past the oldest rocks in the Valley (at 60 feet in), past blue-green algae and its gift of oxygen, and the first single-celled organisms.

Talk about perspective. We are just a tiny blip in the 4.5 billion year history of the earth. This gives me hope that we don’t have the power to destroy it and that it will go on regenerating long after humans are gone. It also left me questioning “THE MEANING OF LIFE.” What is the point of conservation and earth-friendly lifestyles if we’ll all be gone in the blink of an eye? Well the answer is obvious, the time we have is the time we have…and that’s all we’re going to get. So in that time, we should love and respect the many different species of persons around us. We should ease suffering, bring peace and joy, and revel in the glory of what is NOW.

And let’s not forget that every individual-be they human, chicken, elephant, beetle, or ctenophore (thanks Nat Geo for that one!)-is living their one life too. The only life they have, and we all deserve to live happily and securely during our very, very, very, very, very, very (very, very, very….) short lives.