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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.