While biking last night, I saw:
- First blooms of the season on the Queen Anne’s Lace
- First jewelweed of spring
- First blooming orange hawkweed
- First Virginia creeper climbing up through the trees
- First flowers on the multiflora rose
- First buckeyes starting to form from the flowers on the buckeye trees
All these firsts remind me that nature is continually changing and offering anyone willing to take time to look an escape from the hustle and bustle of life. While pedaling along, I felt a sense of peace wash over me despite having had a very rough day and having to deal with a number of what I call life issues.
Value of Variety
One reason I enjoy nature so much is the variety of sights and lessons it provides on a consistent basis. While too much change at once can make adjusting difficult, nature has a way of walking the soul along through the seasons if we pay just a little attention each day. For me, this pace allows for better acceptance of change and better absorption of the lessons nature is trying to teach.
In addition to the many first-of-the-season sightings above, I noticed the white oak and walnut trees dropping their catkins, elongated clusters of flowers that do not have petals. The many droppings look like wormy tumbleweeds when grouped together. This year’s numbers are much higher than prior years, making them much more noticeable.
The sugar maple trees are dropping a large number of fruits, also known as samaras. The samaras are winged, paired seeds that look like helicopters when spinning to the ground in the wind (hence the nickname helicopters). Samaras also can be found on elm, ash, and sycamore trees. The name samara is Latin for seed of the elm.
The last blooming tall phlox, honeysuckle, and buttercups waved to me in the wind as I pedaled along my route. Clouds changing shape in the sky above me made interesting, swirling patterns as the minutes and miles ticked by. Toward the middle of my route, I saw a deep purple flowered crown vetch along the road. Typically, the flowers in my area are pinker in color, so the sight was like finding a hidden treasure.
Each item sparked a memory or made me wonder or ask a question about what I saw. The experience was not only physical exercise for my body, but also mental exercise for my mind and spiritual exercise for my soul. This experience was also a perfect example of what I call being fully engaged, using the elements of physical, mental, and spiritual awareness to better oneself.
Memories That Made Me
Seeing the Queen Anne’s lace brought back a memory of my childhood with my sister, my cousin, and me weeding the hillside along the driveway for my mom. Though we were little, we were able to weed as long as Mom identified what was a weed versus what was not. (It was inevitable that we would unintentionally pull something we should not, so we also learned how to replant and try to salvage our victim as best we could. Fortunately, Mom was always very understanding and careful to explain how to avoid the same mistake). Though the Queen Anne’s lace was pretty, Mom did not want it towering above the grass in the front yard by the driveway.
The orange hawkweed and multiflora rose also reminded me of childhood experiences in the yard. I remember when I first learned to mow grass, I used to try to go around the orange hawkweed because I liked the color orange. Of course, this made for a not-so-nice looking yard, and the anal side of me won the battle of mowing for aesthetics and practicality instead of childish wants.
The smell of the multiflora rose reminded me of when I first learned to trim bushes and trees. For some reason, the multiflora rose grew in among the hedges in our side yard. This drove my anal mind insane (yes, I was anal from a young age, and I admit it made for more than a few rough childhood experiences). I was forever trying to wield the too-big-for-me, old-fashioned hedge clippers with wooden handles and the rusty hand clippers through the tangled mess with the intent of making things look neater. (Though I did succeed, I usually ended up with more than a few cuts and bruises in the process, which is an early example of me crossing the fine line between determination and stupidity).
Seeing the first buckeyes always brings back memories of raking in the yard with my grandmother. Gram was a stickler for a clean yard, and my sister and I always helped her pick up or rake all the buckeyes, chestnuts, walnuts, apples, and pears before Gram got on the old Snapper rear engine riding mower to cut the grass. It was a ritual that turned into a rite of passage in our family. We went from being the raking laborer to the push mowing laborer, and then finally graduated to the riding mower operator as we grew older.
These days, I do all three activities myself, but I have a sense Gram is with me in spirit, watching from heaven, and laughing at me while I work to keep the yard up to her standards, which have become the foundation of my standards for yard work. (Of course, the anal, determined part of me added and expanded the standards over the years to make the experience more challenging).
I learned about jewelweed and Virginia creeper much later in life. The jewel weed lesson came from a friend who was also a hunter. He explained that the deer like to eat the upper leaves of the plant in the early spring. I learned later that the juice of the jewelweed has been proven to treat athlete’s foot and is believed to help relieve itching from poison ivy.
Though I had seen Virginia creeper before, I did not know much about it until a landscaping coworker shared his knowledge and experiences with the vine to me. Though Virginia creeper fruit is not poisonous if ingested, the leaves contain raphides known to cause skin irritation for some people. This skin irritation often leads to the misidentification of Virginia creeper as poison ivy.
Wondering Through Working
The different varieties of oak and maple trees dropping catkins and samaras brought back memories of my high school biology days. I remember learning about flora and fauna, and plant classification using the kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species system. We also did a chapter on how to use the features of a plant to identify it. My teacher was a very nice woman who gave large quantities of homework that required a number of hours each night to complete. Her lessons required attention to detail and much thought. She stressed the need to question as we read and to seek answers to questions with the intent of learning valuable information.
Though the work was hard, I enjoyed writing out my answers to the questions on the pages and drawing pictures to accompany what I wrote. Back then, we did not use computers for homework, so I always had a callous on my one finger from holding my pencil to make neat cursive writing responses. I think I wore out two sets of colored pencils making all my drawings, but I also learned a lot about biology, work ethic, and life in that class. The best part of this experience was the teacher gave extra credit for neat, thorough work, so my efforts were always rewarded, at least until I hit the limit on number of bonus points allowed per grading period.
Building Blocks of Knowledge
My biology class experience made me want to know more about certain plants, trees, and aspects of nature. While researching sources for good information, I discovered The Arbor Day Foundation, which publishes a number of informational brochures in addition to growing and selling trees, replanting areas devastated by natural disasters, and fostering programs to support educational experiences for people of all ages.
One of my favorite publications from The Arbor Day Foundation is The Tree Book, which showcases a variety of trees offered for sale by the organization. The book also explains how to plant and care for trees and shrubs and has some very nice illustrations to accompany the text. There is an online version of the tree guide, called What Tree Is That?
Another resource I found most helpful for identifying different elements in nature is a book called North American Wildlife published by Reader’s Digest. My mom bought my sister and me this book when we were in high school. The illustrations and information in it fascinate me to this day. Often, I use it to identify wildflowers that I discover on my property and in my neighborhood. It is kind of like my nature Bible that I rely upon for knowledge and learning experiences. There is a newer version of the book available in paperback with updated illustrations, but I prefer my old hardback book.
Sharing is Caring
Recalling how I learned about nature reminds me that others cared enough to share their knowledge with me. These generous gestures have in turn allowed me to learn, grow, and share experiences with others. These people planted the seeds of wonder and awareness in my mind. They also showed me how to be generous with my time, how to look at life from different perspectives, and how to build upon what I learn, which in turn allows me to adapt to changes in life.
In addition to these people, I have learned much from reading books of different kinds. One book that took me a while to begin to read and understand was the Bible. I had trouble with the names, understanding the wording, and figuring out what the message of each book was. However, I found that just as in nature, if I spend a little time each day and open my eyes and mind to the words I see, my struggles to understand become less frustrating and more rewarding.
The authors of the books in the Bible cared enough to share their experiences and accounts with others in the hope of spreading God’s word and promoting faith. Just as in nature, each author had his or her own methods to illustrate their message. Some used history, others used poetry, and still others used stories and parables as mechanisms to teach.
Perhaps this blog is an example of how I have taken what people in my life have shown me and used the lessons learned along the way to help others learn. Though I don’t get a callous from writing this blog, I do work at it to make the content appealing, relevant, and informative to those who view it. I try to follow the words of Joseph Pulitzer:
“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”
May we be able to take some time to see what nature has to offer. May what we learn from viewing nature provide us with good learning experiences and memories to help us in the years to come. May sharing our experiences with others allow us additional insight and perspective to help us upon our journey.
Through the Years of Time
Early sunrise above the trees
Spreading light and energy
Through the maples, oaks, and buckeye boughs
Providing stable learning to pursue
With childlike wonder and awe
As the soul wanders and moves on
Through the years of time
Moving near to peace in the light,
Drawing upon experiences had
Graced by God through good and bad.
Jewel weed and Queen Ann’s lace,
Maple pod seeds and burr oaks spaced
In random fashion yet patterned
Such that each has gathered
A beauty all its own
To be seen, shared, and shown
Through the years of time
On the way to the other side
Of knowledge gained and lessons learned
Within the days spent upon this earth.
Crown vetch and buttercups
With spreading roots the get all tangled up
Within the earth below the trees
Allowing what is planted to grow beneath
Sun and rain, moon and stars,
As the days spread apart
Through the years of time
As nature steers the soul and mind
Through changes and alterations
Made along the way to the destination.
-Lisa A. Wisniewski
Resources and Related Links
Buckeye tree – http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/ohiobuckeye
Joseph Pulitzer – http://www.pulitzer.org/page/biography-joseph-pulitzer
Multiflora rose – https://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/pubs/midatlantic/romu.htm
Orange hawkweed – https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=HIAU
Plant classification system – https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/1438-classification-system
The Arbor Day Foundation – https://www.arborday.org/
Tree Identification Guide – https://www.arborday.org/trees/whattree/
Virginia creeper – https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=paqu2