Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to know what you think you know, part 1


Two weeks have passed since I took this photograph, and I want them back.  Financing my life through horticulture means that spring brings so many chores...I don't catch my breath really until mid-July by which time another spring is history, and I am planning for autumn.  I did...long ago...follow a policy of "be here now" and a short time later a "be there next" theme took over my life.  I wonder sometimes if another person caught my Be Here Now life as it was flying by and if they are enjoying it and have thought to send me a postcard.

I began my education by majoring in art.  What art instruction does is to teach the student to see.   First you learn to reproduce what you see, then you learn to place that vision in a macro scale by studying composition, color,  light, media and so on.  Along the way, you hope to encounter some truth through the physical manifestation your creative energy.  You also go down some peculiar roads seeking the creative energy to manifest.  It's a bit exhausting really. 

If truth and creativity go whizzing through the universe at dawn, the student is apt to miss the opportunity entirely from having been up all night  pursuing it.

One day, the second best art professor I ever had asked me if I used a microscope very often, because, he said, "there is such an organic quality to your work."  I told him that I hadn't been near a science lab in 15 years and also said some other snarly, snobby, contemptuous art-major  things about science in general.  After explaining that I would have to take a few science classes to graduate from college, he said something which I have come to know as the persistent knock of an epiphany preparing to enter the room......science has tools to take your mind where your body can not ever go: microscopes, telescopes, chemical reactions steeped in new colors, infrared light....check it out.

Well, I had to check it out because I wouldn't get the degree without it.  I registered for botany  and shortly I saw the color palette, the shapes, the composition of my developing art work on a glass slide under a microscope.  There were the cell shapes, the circulatory patterns, the energy exchanges that I'd been painting, that I'd thought were my vision,  magnified and recorded as an algae's love affair.  I saw the universe in  pollen dust.

Hmmmmm.  The epiphany, after knocking quietly at the door, tired of being ignored and suddenly exploded into the room.  The art professor was correct; science had the tools to take my mind where my body couldn't go, but there was something more wonderful than that: science insisted on truth.  Demanded it, had a system for determining it and accepted nothing less.  No fuzzy fooling around.  The next few years were tough...chemistry, calculus and yikes, you could make a career of studying cell membranes on the molecular level.  But eventually my art-trained ability to perceive  twiddled up with a science-trained ability to understand what I was perceiving and to relate that to everything else. 
I suppose I get a bit obnoxious now.

A green thumb isn't botanical voodoo; it's the ability to make accurate observations within a known context and timely decisions on when, and how, to act on them.  (Knowing the context is a subject best discussed after midnight over a bottle of wine)

 Air temperatures are, within a narrow range, life and death to mammals, but less so to plants.  Soil temperatures are more significant.  Water and nutrient uptake are soil temperature dependent.  Just because you've joyously tossed your jacket over the garden fence does not mean it's time to plant.  Dig a small hole, bury your bare foot into it and see what 55 degrees on April 10th  feels like on animal skin, and you still won't know what a root cell thinks. 

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