The Art of Noticing
What comes to mind when you think about the season of spring or summer? Fragrant flowers? Singing choirs of birds? For most people, spring has a rejuvenating effect across many areas of life. After what can feel like an eternal season of cold and seemingly lifeless landscapes, it’s easy to welcome the freshness of weather, longer sunny days, and the vitality of our plant and animal neighbors.
In generations past, our ancestors found a sense of place to be woven into the very fabric of their being. Understanding when plants bloom, flower and produce fruit was knowledge that led to survival. Understanding when prey animals migrate or utilize natural resources throughout the seasons meant a life-giving protein source. While our sense of place might seem less relevant now, it actually carries great subconscious significance and helps us understand the world around us.
As you’re reading this, what’s happening around you? Not the impending test or the office copier that isn’t working, but what about the trees that are blooming? What birds do you hear? These are all observations that can tell us something. Being observant is still key to our survival.
Observing seasons and the cyclical nature of all living things is called phenology. For example, in this part of the world, we know that many trees wow us with their last hurrah before winter with breathtaking palettes of fall foliage. Then, they drop their leaves. To take it further, we might make a note on our calendar when the buds first burst in spring. This is phenology, and it can be that simple.
Connecting to the Natural World
Thinking about phenology creates a deeper connection to our natural world.
It fosters and refines the valuable life skill of observation. It’s more than looking—it involves noticing the things around you.
So what have you noticed lately? Can you train your eyes to see beyond the tulips and fragrant lilacs to find beauty in the tiny flowers of the maples and unfolding leaves of the river birch? As we look closely, we notice relationships. Everything on Earth is in relationship with something else. The most stable and resilient ecosystems are ones that have lots of connections. If we want the blooms, bees, and birds, we need the full range of organisms that provide their life support.
Impacting the Present and the Future
As we learn about phenology, it’s important to share with others and develop a community of people who notice things and can draw conclusions. Let’s resolve to take this challenge together and see how it can benefit our body, mind, and soul as well as nurture this skill in the next generations.
To get started, go find a path on campus—whether it’s our amazing meadows or one of the many forested areas. Look for details. Open your ears. Record the time and place where you went, take photos, and make a few specific observations of your choice. Then go back in one week, and make the same observations for the same amount of time. You’ll create a connection to that spot that will surprise you.