Better Know A Plant
TAoN No. 112: Attention as a doorway. Plus TAoN's anniversary! And a new missing word, some "Best Advice," and more.
Agave Plant, by Dorian Wallender on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Hello everyone and happy Memorial Day. Did you take a little time off? Maybe in nature?
I thought about nature, at least. I’ve confessed in the past that I’m much more of an urban person. And I was reminded of that yet again when I caught this old interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer, the botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss, who remarked at one point:
That kind of deep attention that we pay as children is something that I cherish, that I think we all can cherish and reclaim, because attention is that doorway to gratitude, the doorway to wonder, the doorway to reciprocity.
And it worries me greatly that today’s children can recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than 10 plants. That means they’re not paying attention.
Hearing this somewhat alarmed me (which I assume was the point), but it also kind of embarrassed me: Could I name 10 plants? Maybe, but I know I see plants and trees and flowers and even weeds all the time that I can’t name and have never bothered to wonder (let alone learn) about.
But it’s such a simple prompt, doable in all kinds of places (cities included), and thus a really useful way to engage.
Challenge yourself to notice and learn more about the flora you encounter.
If you’re plant ignorant, like me, then start small: Just try to notice what you’re seeing and what you can find out. Maybe ask a neighbor about some unfamiliar plant in their yard or on their porch; later, look it up and learn about how it fits in your region.
If you’re more of an advanced nature-observer, try to notice some new, different, or unusual plant in an environment familiar to you — and make an effort to explore a new environment that isn’t so familiar at all.
This is a pretty straightforward prompt, but, per Kimmerer, the idea is to treat it as a doorway — an opening to curiosity and discovery about places you know and places you’re just discovering. It’s a doorway, in other words, to better habits of attention.
And if the prompt is too simple (or if you’re trying to get kids engaged and feel you need a little more structure), then soup it up:
Rank your five favorite area plants.
Identify the neighborhood flora you like the least.
Find a weed you like better than most “desirable” plants.
Consider sound and flora: Is there a bush or tree in your neighborhood that attracts lots of vocal birds?
Identify the most surprising place you’ve seen a plant lately.
What’s the best-smelling plant you encountered this week/month?
Make up your own variation, and tell us about it.
The Art of Noticing is Rob Walker’s newsletter about attention, creativity, and staying human. Your support makes it possible.
Dictionary of Missing Words is an exercise in paying attention to phenomena you encounter — sensations, concepts, states between states, feelings, slippery things — that could be named, but don’t seem to be. More here and here.
There should be a word for a waiting period that lasts way too long — waiting to go to a movie after finishing work, waiting for blood test results etc. — but you would rather wait because it would be more of a hassle to travel home and come back. (Typing this while waiting for blood results.)
This is very much in the spirit of Duchamp’s “infrathin” idea that inspired this series — a state between states. Perfect example! (And hope the test results were good!)
What else should we add to The Dictionary of Missing Words? Leave your suggestion — or respond to this one — in the comments.
Next issue: a new icebreaker. (The Dictionary of Missing Words series alternates with Icebreaker of the Week, and, more sporadically, the Something to Notice series.)
It’s been almost one full year since I increased the frequency of TAoN and added a paid tier! Yikes, time flies!
In this Thursday’s subscriber-only edition I’ll offer some behind-the-scenes background on this first year of experimenting with a paid version, and some thoughts on what comes next (and I’ll specifically be asking for feedback from current subscribers on that “what comes next” part).
Last Thursday I wrote about The Rule of One, the first in a planned series on coping with social media — and, turns out, probably the most popular subscriber-only post to date! Coming soon, another installment, The Rule of Five (by Five). Stay tuned.
For access to past and future Thursday posts, discussion threads, and other surprises, become a paid subscriber now.
In Other News
It was an honor to be a guest on Zak Rosen’s terrific podcast The Best Advice. Inspired by this earlier post, we talked about looking for what’s out of place. How do you elevate the mundane? All episodes bite-sized; mine is here. Thanks Zak!
But enough about me as a writer. What about me as a source? Here I am in The Washington Post in my guise as a workplace advice-giver, in a very fun story about how to deal with your office’s Joe Manchin.
Not totally unrelated: Congrats to Alison Green on 15 years of Ask A Manager! I’m a fan.
How a food critic decides what NOT to write about.
“The Secret News,” and other thoughts on George Carlin.
Aerial photos of an “airplane boneyard.”
“What unlike things must meet and mate.” — Art, a short poem by Herman Melville. (“Sad patience—joyous energies; / Humility—yet pride and scorn.”)
Okay that’s it!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or use the comments.
—> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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