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A blossoming understanding

For me, the beginning of March always represents hope. The days are noticeably longer, there’s usually at least a hint of light when I’m going to work in the morning and heading home at night; the air starts to take on that incredible early spring scent; patches of dry pavement, exposed dirt and grass are joyous, welcome sights; soon, sprouts, buds, blossoms and other signs of floral life’s momentous return will begin to appear.

With all that takes place in our environment during the spring months, I find myself wishing I was a bit better at identifying flora, fauna, and geological features out in the wild.

While I have a grasp of the basics, I feel that people who have more specific knowledge of the natural world seem to view it through a different lens.

When we know we saw a whooping crane or a golden barrel cactus as opposed to a “huge white bird” or “round, stubby cactus,” it helps us better understand and appreciate what we’re observing.

And that, in turn, enriches how we experience the world.

I first realized this during an art history course in college. It might sound unusual, but this class taught me so much about the value of learning terms for the things that surround us, whether they’re natural or manmade.

Once I learned the terms for basic elements of architecture and how to recognize various styles and periods of buildings, a whole new world opened up.

A walk or a drive through familiar neighborhoods became a new adventure with added meaning when I stopped to consider the variety of architectural styles at play.

Columns, pediments, porticos, balustrades, cupolas and other elements of architecture meant more to me because they now had names. And the names helped me connect them to the larger context of architectural styles, history, form, and function.

Certain features became calling cards for a structure being built in — or heavily influenced by — a certain era or style.

Structures that I previously thought of in general terms such as: “cool old building” or “modern-looking place” became “a wonderful example of neoclassical architecture” or “a love letter to Bauhaus style.”

Knowing a few architectural terms and the associated history provided a new lens to view these structures through, a new way of thinking about how, why and when they were built.

This same line of thought can be applied to things in the natural world.

If we can connect a name to the appearance of a plant, we can begin to recognize it and understand its role in the ecosystem.

Is it native, non-native or invasive to the area where you saw it? Does it support certain animal and insect populations? What role does it play in the greater ecological picture?

The answers to these questions become within our reach once we know the name of something.

Connecting the name of something with its form can also enrich our reading and writing. For example, having an idea of what a creosote bush or a jack pine looks like can help us understand what an author is talking about and asking us to picture. We can also use terms in our own writing if we care to describe the natural world.

But whether it’s flora, fauna, geological features, architecture or another aspect of our environment, it’s amazing how learning a few terms and identifiers can transform our perception.

Words and names give formerly mysterious, generic, unnoticed features a purpose, a story, a context, a meaning.

In this way, words can open up new worlds, much like the coming spring will reveal long-hidden natural features and near-forgotten rhythms of being.

With spring’s promise of renewed life, we are all presented with an opportunity to expand our understanding of the environment that we inhabit.

So as the buds turn to blossom this spring, let’s take this time to allow our knowledge of the environment to blossom. When we view familiar sights through a new lens, we might just find a precious world that was previously hidden to us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cecilia Brown is city editor at The Mining Journal. She lives in Marquette and can be found hiking if the weather’s nice, or curled up with a book if not. Contact her at cbrown@miningjournal.net.