It’s so interesting how context changes our value of something. Today on a bird walk with David Haskell, he mentioned how the beautiful blue jay would be a focus of ecotourism in Costa Rica, but here in the eastern US, it’s a common bird, and thus we often don’t marvel quite so much. Though, Haskell says, its habits are still quite a mystery because its call is usually only far from its nest. When it’s near its nest, the blue jay is silent. Knowing that extra insight–or acknowledged lack of insight–into blue jay behavior, starts to change our perspective of the bird, and how we value it. Now, the blue jay is mysterious.
A similar phenomenon happens with plants. Our value of it can change based on the context. In 2007 when I was with my grandma and aunt in Wheeling, WV, we visited the river park at the Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River. I saw this darling blue and white flower, that at the time I considered some type of violet. It doesn’t grow in GA, where I have mostly lived, and so the beauty drew my attention, and the newness beckoned me to take time to photograph it.
My grandma and aunt patiently waited for me to take pictures, and chuckled at my rear-end sticking up in the air as I knelt down on the ground in this public place.
Later, after I moved to Tennessee, I learned that this is blue-eyed mary, Collinsia verna, not the Viola genus. It’s in the figwort family, or snapdragon family. To Tennesseans and the USDA Plants Database, it’s an endangered plant, which increases it’s sense of value. http://plants.usda.gov/java/nameSearch
The habitat of the blue-eyed mary is moist woods, though the blue-eyed marys I saw in Wheeling, West Virginia were coming up like flowering weeds in a frequently mowed, downtown park lawn in bright sunlight with few trees. Had I been from Tennessee, I might have jumped around a bit, excited and baffled to see this endangered flower in this uncommonly common spot. So, in hindsight I’m jumping around.
I think about how else my perspective influences my value or appraisal of something. Why does scarcity have to often occur for value to be perceived? We value aspects of nature or life when we finally understand that it could and will be otherwise.
Between the sensory awareness of something and the response, is a filter of meaning based on habits of expectation which colors our perspective. The blue jays and blue-eyed marys are only two examples of illustrating the process, but it’s happening every moment. In terms of plants and animals our perception can boil our choices of responses into three options: should I revere and protect this; should I dislike and destroy this, ie mow, herbicide, shoot, trap, etc; or do I ignore and overlook it. These are sometimes necessary assessments for survival, and sometimes our assessment isn’t based on all the information, ending in unintended consequences. Many times, though, it’s not about survival; it’s simply about habit. And our habits place limitations on our experience. We may neglect to see, hear, smell, taste, touch much of our life fully because of how we categorized our experience.
Being an observer of nature is a gentle way to open our awareness and recognize the automatic associations we attach to our experiences. This is a mindfulness practice that might be more accessible to people rather than jumping into interpersonal and intrapersonal inquisitive awareness. Give it a try in your own backyard. Sit with a dandelion, or an ant, or a blue jay and see what comes up.