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Davis, California

Saturday, November 27, 2021

In Our Nature: The Flowers and the Field

We humans are artists by nature.  Our perception of the world is arranged artfully by our minds; we are attracted to color, novelty, originality, and creativity.  Perhaps that is why we are so drawn to spring, with its colorful flowers and bright sunlight.  In this vibrancy, we sense the glow of creation and can recognize in nature a kindred artistic spirit.

Nature’s capacity for artistry has never before been demonstrated as clearly to me as it was just this past week camping in Big Sur with my dad. In the broad coastal meadows of what’s been been called ‘the greatest meeting of land and sea,’ we were treated to one of the most glorious testaments to springtime I’ve ever seen.  Vast arrays of lupines and poppies speckled the landscape with blue and gold, while brilliant red paintbrush flamed beside the train and deep purple irises lit shaded canyons with quiet grace.  Everything around us burst with life, eager to prove the time of the earth’s opening was nigh.

Of course, now that we’re all back in Davis, we students find that the spring’s grand unfurling is obscured by a myriad of other concerns.  As we brave the heat and slog our way through the last few months before freedom, our thoughts turn to all the upcoming campus events and the fun we’ll soon have with friends.  Yet in this, too, there is an essence of spring.  Finally free from winter’s cloud, we open ourselves, putting on our summer clothes and letting a little more sunlight through the curtains of our minds.  Bit by bit, we’ll relax our souls and our habits to welcome the promise of change and the approaching summer.

The parallel opening in the world’s nature and in our own is no accident, and they reference a dichotomy best illuminated by the bright colors of the current season.  Spring’s opening can be imagined in two different lights.  When we think of spring in terms of the passing of the seasons, we picture what happens to the landscape.  As the great blue expanse of the heavens clears above us, the land all around emerges from its slumber and springs into new life.  I’ve been privileged to witness this firsthand on countless trips like last week’s that I’ve taken throughout my life.  For me, the land’s opening has all the familiarity of an old friend.

And yet, when most of us try to imagine spring itself, we tend to frame it in more intimate terms.  We picture the baby robin hatching from its brilliant blue egg, or the iris rising to stretch its delicate petals in the shade.  In this light, spring is the unique journey taken by each young chick, bud, and sprout as they open into whom or whatever the spring enables them to be.  I believe this view significantly informs our view of our own opening in spring. Under the nurturing gaze of the sun and sky, our nascent identities are coaxed into blooms we each feel are entirely our own.

But to forget that spring is also a season is to forget something amazing and beautiful in its own right, and what we too often fail to see is that it is not only spring’s identity but also ours that can be enriched by considering the big picture.  Each flower has a bed, and every colorful field is comprised of hundreds of individual blooms.  The identity of the spring includes each budding flower, and the identity of each flower includes the bright pixel they represent in spring’s visage.  And so it goes for us; our identities inform and include the identity of the world in which we live.

To explore what is ‘in our nature’ is to discover our identities through not only examining our petals, but finding our places in the field.  Our place in the world is an immutable part of our identities, and in the columns to come I want to explore ways that through a relationship with nature, we can come to understand ourselves on this connected level and find new meaning in our lives.  Life is an art and we are the painters; in nature we find the greatest possible palate.

As we flowers and the earth bloom together this spring, I hope we all find our own places and colors in the great patchwork field of every hue embedded in the green.

Look up, look out, look around – spring is in our nature.

 

NICK JENSEN can be reached at njensen@ucdavis.edu.

Graphic by Jennifer Wu.

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