You can see, but then not really see. There’s nothing much wrong with my eyesight, but this spring I find I see things differently from this time last year when I hadn’t yet started this blog. For example, all this winter I’ve been noticing clumps of tall spurges which are bent over at their tips, like this:
I had my suspicions about what they were, strengthened by this next stage:
And another sighting recently confirmed it: Mediterranean spurge ((Euphorbia characias)
Note the characteristic violet-brown nectar glands. Now last year I hadn’t even registered that all these clumps of this spurge existed, even though I must have ‘seen’ them.
And here’s another puzzling example:
An orchid I first thought was the Lady orchid (Orchis purpurea). Although it’s not exactly like the one I blogged last year here, the species does seem quite variable (the reliable site FloreAlpes has a very varied photogallery here). Eventually I found a better identification – Himantoglossum robertianum (see next post). Now as of today I’ve seen dozens of these this year on the roadsides near my village, solitary like this and in clumps, but note the date on last year’s blog: May 21st. Again, what was I looking at during last March and April?
Now this is partly due to what I call the Reliant Robin Effect: I used to have one of those peculiar three-wheeled cars because I could drive it on my motorbike licence, and I suddenly noticed for the first time how many of them there were on the road. I also used to teach psychology, and I know this is called salience: we pay most attention to things most relevant (salient) to us, but I think there’s a bit more to it. Plants have more meaning to me now: they remind me of comments and conversations and are a part of the things I want to do. Sightings also link in to some of my other ideas, about ecology, evolution and environmentalism for example. And you have to be curious, to want to understand better – just wanting to collect plants isn’t enough.
There’s a worrying side to all this too, of course: if I’m paying more attention to plants, what are all the other things I could be noticing, which aren’t yet salient to me? And what has all this botany replaced – what have I stopped seeing?
These lines of thought fitted well with a book I read this week which made a big impression on me – I’ll review it next time.
I never need much of an excuse to play a song by Billie Holiday, and this seemed, well, salient: I’ll be seeing you.