Sunday, April 06, 2008

Jaunt up Portillo Mesa with Botany Quotes

Barry Lopez in Arctic Dreams;

"The sound of my footfall changes as I step from damp ground to wet, from wet to dry. Microhabitats. I turn the pages of a mental index to plants and try to remember which are the ones to distinguish these borders: which plants separate at a glance mesic from hydric, hydric from xeric? I do not remember. Such generalities, in any case, would only founder on the particulars at my feet. One is better off with a precise and local knowledge, and a wariness of borders. These small habitats, like the larger landscapes, merge imperceptibly with each other. Another, remembered landscape makes this one seem familiar, and the habits of an animal in one region provoke speculation about behavior among its relatives in another region. But no country, finally, is just like another. The generalities are abstractions. And the lines on our topographic maps reveal not only the scale at which we are discerning, but our tolerance for discrepancies in nature.

Scientists say the pattern of coming and going, of feeding and resting, repeats itslef every twenty-four hours. But a description of it becomes more jagged and complex than the experience, like any parsing of a movement in time. "

Richard Manning, in Grassland from the end of chapter 11, "Seeds"

Pauline says her work is not simply an application of her knowledge as a botanist. It is not a prescribing of the known. Rather, it is exploration of the microscopically complex world we do not know and a realization that some of it is not knowable.
"This is a search for the unknown, and the unknown forms the model from which we work," she says. "We as a species are lessened by the loss of unknown places."

We drove all that day on straight gravel roads set in a grid across each other every mile and finally stopped to lok at one of those. Pauline showed me where a bank had been cut and the roadbed built up, forever altering the soil profile below. The soil manifests itself as plants. The refuge will close these roads and bulldoze them back to something resembling the natural contour, but bulldozers cannot re-create the soil profile, and so for the ages, the plants above these buried roads will be different. The soil below will always contain different minerals in different layers, percolate water differently, and the plants will express all of this. Pauline believes the difference in plants may be visible even from aircraft. Someday one may fly above this refuge and still see the Jeffersonian grid sticking through the grass like the bones off a great buried beast.
In that the plants tell the history of a place, I'm not sure I would have it otherwise. One cannot cheat the land's library of its information.

In some real ways, the effort to re-find the landscape, which is the same as the effort to re-attach our lives to the land, is a religious quest, and it makes sense to consider it that way. Western literate culture, with its respect for authority, needed a creator and pursued one, eventually separate from the creation. This separation excused all manners of destruction.

Yet the creation remains, and some of us creatures need to find it. The creator and creation are the same and the unity is evolution. A place possesses a certain set of circumstances, weather, soil, and community, that lead to a certain manifestation of life in a place. Undeniably, the creation evolved certain parts of life to inhabit certain places, to show the nature of a place. [really, you have to look at lichen to know the primary movers]
Certain cultural traditions took great pains to divine the intentions of the creation. They used shamans, who were not so much magicians or priests or herbalists or storytellers as they were seers, those who would travel beyond the veil to read the verities, to divine the creation's intentions. They saw and heard the mysteries that were just beyond every one else's ken.

...I imagine that must be what it is like sometimes to be a botanist. I have been afield with many of them, and they are different, almost invariably quiet, distant. Undeniably, they see something different from what I see, as if the knowledge of the plants lifts a veil. The whole of it is there in the plants to be read, the full soul of a place, its life and the abuses of its life, the creation's intentions and the manifest violations of those intentions. Botanists are our shamans. "

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