Phenology is the study of nature’s schedule. The timing of salamanders emerging in late winter, daffodils and crocuses breaking through ground in early spring, the first lightning bugs to blink in early summer, the last lightning bugs to blink in late summer, the beginning of the leaves turning, the blooming of witch hazel in fall.
Because natural cycles are related to climate fluctuations like small changes in temperature, phenology is a helpful way to monitor climate change. And it’s a great way for ordinary people to monitor changes themselves, without having any fancy equipment to monitor climate indicators. The natural world does it for us, and if we put in just a little effort to pay attention, we can have a better understanding of how the natural world unfolds around us all the time.
In The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abrahm talks about how paying attention to our senses, what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, of the natural world, helps us be in relationship with it.
In Intelligence in Nature: An Inquiry into Knowledge, author and anthopologist Jeremy Narby explores efforts of western thinking scientists to discover “intelligence,” “knowing,” “understanding,” by plants and animals that shamans have trusted, but in immeasurable ways, for eons. The intelligence of plants in regard to where to put down roots, where to seek food, when to migrate. Shamans studied natural phenomena and were in relationship with it. Narby was surprised to discover scientists around the world coming to conclusions about intelligence in plants and animals that goes beyond instinct, and which embodies this definition of intelligence: “adaptively variable behavior during the lifetime of the individual.”
Narby beautifully melds ancient and modern by melding a reverence for ancient, undocumentable, unprovable, unrepeatable, shamanic ways of knowing and valuing nature, with a modern documentable, measurable awe from some ground-breaking scholars from the modern scientific community, taking those with an open western taught mind, one step closer to their own capacity to know that nature knows.
Narby writes, “Shamans have long said that nature uses signs and communicates.” He finally settled on his own understanding of this term, chi-sei, to describe natural world intelligence. He described chi-sei as “capacity to know.”
One way practice knowing in everyday life, is to pay attention is by creating your own personal phenology. Today’s phenological event here in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, July 5, 2015, was hearing the first cicada of the year, which I was expecting because when I think of my mother’s birthday, July 6, I think of the sound of locusts, and of the black eyed susans starting to bloom.
If you are really interested in phenology, you can volunteer to be a Phenology Monitor with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Appalachian Trail Phenology Monitoring Program
“The mission of the A.T. Seasons project is twofold. The project is intended to provide education and outreach to the A.T. Community and its neighbors, by bridging the gap between humans and nature. The program aims to expand understanding and appreciation for the natural world by providing hands-on, outdoor experiences to students, teachers, volunteers, and members and neighbors of the A.T. Community. Second, the A.T. Seasons project has been designed to harness the support of volunteers and citizen-scientists. Data collect by volunteers will contribute to a national pool of data and can be used for making natural resource management decisions along the A.T.”
Here’s some of the phenology signs I look for in my own life
Mothers Day: Bleeding hearts are blooming
May 21-26 (between my birthday and my sister’s birthdays): Iris bloom
My kids getting out of school and early June: First day lillies and fireflies, usually right around the same day.
My daughter’s and dad’s birthdays, between June 25 and 27: Monarda starting to bloom, fireworks!
My mom’s birthday and fourth of July: Corn is about waist high, first locusts!
Mid August: tomatoes and summer squash are all ripening
Mid September: corn is ripe
First week in October: first leaves are starting to change color
I’m working on improving my ability to adaptively vary my behavior throughout my lifetime; we will see how intelligent we all are in time! Narby concludes Intelligence in Nature by writing, “Humanity can learn from nature. This requires coming to terms with the natural world’s capacity to know. We are a young species, and we are just beginning to understand.”
“The goal of warriorship is to reconnect to the nowness of reality, so that you can go forward without destroying simplicity, without destroying your connection to this earth.” Chogyam Trungpa in Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior.