I delight in seeing the first flowers of spring. I love to see to garden flowers, native flowers, and even the flowers that would be considered weeds, spring to life.
I used to think of humans as separate from nature. I thought of going out into the wilderness as this special time to leave behind the civilized human world and enter the world of nature. I have realized that humans are, of course, as much a part of nature as anything else, and our actions here on this side of the fence have massive repercussions in the natural world. In college, I began to learn more and more about the interconnectedness of life, about ecosystems, food webs, pollution, and natural cycles.
I majored in English. I love the outdoors, and part of me always wanted to major in biology, ecology, or environmental science, but I had a hard time sitting through biology lectures focused on the world at a cellular level. Lately, though, I have begun to see the benefits of understanding these small but immensely important cycles going on all the time. The sharing of molecules between life forms is what physically connects me to so many other living things.
As an example, I will use three creatures commonly found in my backyard—myself, a mosquito, and a bird.
Only breeding female mosquitoes feed on blood. Male mosquitoes and females who are not breeding feed on nectar from flowers or get sugars from rotting fruit. Blood is a protein boost for mothers only.
We live on a greenbelt backed up to a little swamp, and some years the mosquitoes are so thick we can hardly be out in the yard (a common Alaskan experience). The few milligrams of blood a mosquito takes when she bites me are an unnoticeable loss to me, but they double the mosquito’s body weight.
Within an hour of biting me, she will have dumped about half of the water and salt from the blood she consumed. She will digest the remaining blood cells, and my proteins will become the yolk in a set of mosquito eggs. That’s why only breeding females will feed on blood—it is their ticket to fertility, the key to egg-laying. Those hundreds of mosquito bites we itch every summer are the precursors to mosquito motherhood.
When she is ready, the mosquito will lay her eggs, possibly in the stagnant waters of the swamp not far from my yard. These eggs, created from the proteins in my blood, will hatch and wreak havoc on me or my mom as we kneel in the garden as we plant or pull weeds.
While the female mosquito is focused on getting proteins to lay her eggs, a breeding female bird is on a desperate hunt for enough calcium to make her eggshells. Some larger species of birds can store excess calcium in their bones to be used at egg-laying time, but smaller birds must consume a large amount of calcium right before laying eggs.
Birds often find calcium in the sheets of calcium carbonate that make up snail shells. We don’t have snails in our garden, but birds can also obtain calcium from old moose antlers or animal bones, from the mineral deposits in soil, or even by eating the old pieces of other birds’ eggshells (I’m glad I can just get calcium from the Costco chocolate calcium chews and the milk I put on my cereal).
As a young bird grows inside its egg, it pulls calcium out of the shell, progressively chipping away at the walls of its home, and turning the calcium into bone. These bones may fly all the way to South America or up to Prudhoe Bay. They may fly right back to my yard the next spring, and when the bird lays her eggs, the calcium will again be returned to this soil. My blood may join the calcium from an eggshell in the young bird that eats or is bitten by a passing mosquito.
David George Haskell writes, “This physical connection to the rest of nature is often unseen… [These] are acts that create a community, that keep us welded into existence, but that mostly pass unacknowledged.”
The connections through the millions of molecules we eat or breathe or lose to mosquitoes are too many and often too complex for us to even begin to comprehend, but the point is to know the connections are there. We live in community with everything around us. Nothing is separate.
Now appearing: Hellebore
I love early spring, when the first flowers come out. They are always such a nice surprise, and fill my head with thoughts of spring sunshine. The first ones I notice are usually the crocuses with their bright colors popping up out of an otherwise colorless palette. When I saw them this year, I thought, "I must get some pics of this beauty," but then they were gone. It seemed that just a few days later, when I brought my camera out, they had already faded into the earth.
It seems like this is how it is with so many things in life—I say to myself, "I will stop and smell the flowers later." Why do I wait? The time to cherish the beauty in life is now. Our society has such an emphasis on getting our work done and being productive that we sometimes forget to balance our business with the enjoyment of life. Small wonders are here for us now, and the crocuses were planted so that we could enjoy their beauty just as they arrive. They don't wait for anyone. So, should I arrange my schedule around the spontaneous beauty that pops up around me? Can I learn to breathe in the beauty and enjoy it when it is there?
I can, and I will! I think my photography can help me with this. Next time I find myself saying, "I should get my camera and take a picture of this," let that be a hint to myself that it is time to stop and smell the flowers along the way.