The thing about Spring...

I recently moved back to my hometown in the suburbs of Vancouver, and am concurrently missing the city and relieved to have some peace and quiet after a tumultuous end to last year. I am in a state of transition right now, and there is a lot of uncertainty as to how my life will unfold over the next year.

Fortunately, very close to my home is a small parcel of forest that I've been exploring. It is land that I lived close to as I came of age, but I am just now opening my eyes to all the plants and trees that dwell within it. For the past few months, I've been observing the changes to nature brought about by the warm weather. The dull brown sticks of winter now bloom with salmonberry leaves and flowers,  Indian plum plants bear blushing fruit, tiny white flowers adorn the elderberry trees, and a large patch of nettles carpets a special corner of the forest floor.

The tiny fruits of the Indian plum shrub ( Oemleria cerasiformis)  hang and ripen in the sunshine. 

The tiny fruits of the Indian plum shrub (Oemleria cerasiformis) hang and ripen in the sunshine. 

An umbel of elderflowers adds a cheery splash to forest walks.

An umbel of elderflowers adds a cheery splash to forest walks.

The thing that both pleases and frustrates me about springtime is that nature unfolds at its own pace, and reveals itself slowly, in stages. While there are plants that I can identify easily by a leaf or a flower pattern, there are others that remain a mystery to me. Take, for example, the flower buds of these plants:


I can guess that the top image is that of a thimbleberry and the bottom image is some kind of currant, but I can't be sure until the flowers grow in and I can do some positive ID-ing. The forest is unwilling to reveal all of its cards to me at once, and I must learn to be patient.

In her wonderful book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, Robin Wall Kimmerer makes an astute observation about teaching and learning. She writes:

"In traditional indigenous communities, learning takes a form very different from that in the public education system. Children learn by watching, by listening and by experience. They are expected to learn from all members of the community, human and non. To ask a direct question is often considered rude. Knowledge cannot be taken; it must instead be given... Much learning comes from patient observation, discerning pattern and its meaning by experience" (pp. 76-77).

This lesson - that much learning happens at a pace set not by humans, but by nature - is one of the most important things that I've learned over the course of the Stanley Park Project. I can leaf through countless nature books, studying forest ecology as I would a school subject, but I must wait patiently for an encounter with a plant before I can truly know it. On top of this, it often takes a number of seasons to get acquainted with the ins and outs of a plant's appearance and personality.

As I've been relishing the slow springtime reveal of more flowers and leaves, I've also decided to release my desire to control the aspects of the future that are not within my reach. I will continue to work on paving my way at a measured pace, but will leave a clearing for the unknown to root and blossom along the path.