When we suffer, struggle, thirst, falter or fail, many of us look to nature to ground ourselves. And though dramatic landscapes can deliver the solace we seek, it is the intimacy created by deep attention that heals. Today I find that intimacy as I release the roots of a young service- berry from a cramped container. I am adding this plant to a community of nectar-rich plants at the edge of my yard, and tracking how this created habitat will impact populations of pollinators in my area. Pollinators are rapidly declining as chemicals pervade, habitats dwindle, and climate shifts. I stop digging for a moment to watch tagged milkweed #2, wondering if it will be visited by a pollinator today, the scent of freshly turned earth on the wind and a data sheet in my back pocket.
I am part of a growing, vibrant network of observers and habitat creators. We are building pollinator habitats at preserves, at schools, and in our own backyards to increase connectivity across landscapes. We mark out particular plants (like milkweed #2) to track phenology, the study of life cycle events in the natural world (pheno—“to appear”, “to bring to light”); we compile data to investigate how global change is impacting plant-pollinator relationships. We activate regional communities by pooling our data and sharing resources to build new programs.
We are part of a movement of citizen scientists who are on the front lines to serve our ailing planet. Some of us use our hands and backs to build and restore. Some use our eyes and ears to notice and listen. We are tracking the Earth’s messages with our notebooks and mobile devices, collaborating with scientists, policy makers, land-managers and each other. One container of nectar rich flowers on your porch, or one front-yard tree, can make you part of this network of observers. This is how mutual healing begins.
Yesterday, the flower buds of milkweed #2 were just beginning to crack open. This morning, the plant, having experienced just the right mixture of temperature, hormones, day length and nameless inner resources, burst into bloom. Though milkweed # 2 hasn’t been visited yet, it stands in the space between the possibility of its own fruit developing around fertilized seeds— the continuity of its kind—and the moment of its pollination.
At First, Noticing Was a revelation. Then it became a skill. Then it progressed to an art. Now it is a daily practice. I learn something from every plant I put into the ground.
Milkweed #2 is swaying slightly as the wind picks up from the east. We still wait together for a pollinator visit. The scientist in me feels curious about who will come first and runs through the mental list of native bees and butterflies about this time of year. The granddaughter in me is hoping for the first visitor to be an Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly, the species my Italian grandmother told me she would come to me in spirit form. The mother in me thinks about how exciting it will be for our young daughter to meet pollinators, hoping that we can maintain the beautiful diversity that ensures ecosystem resilience.
During this visit, no pollinator has come to milkweed #2, but no matter. Absence is data too.
Our own internal cycles and patterns of change mirror nature—we seed, burst, bloom and die alongside the life around us. As we more fully understand that our relationship with the natural world mirrors our relationship with ourselves, we are invited into the deeper attention that nourishes intimacy.
Kerissa Battle is an educator in ecology and field biology, developer of research-based citizen science initiatives, and founder of Community Greenways Collaborative. She co- led with Hojin Osho “The Art of Noticing: An Illuminated Journal Retreat” at the Monastery in 2015.