I’ve been thinking lately about how much richer my life is as an ecologist. It feels as though I am walking through the world with a new sensory awareness. It’s easier to say what it is not like: it’s not that I see truth or have complete understanding of things; on the contrary, I am even more aware of the limits of knowledge. It’s not that things are more or less beautiful or otherwise subject to judgement. Rather it is as if I can sense the invisible threads connecting one thing to everything else. Also, most natural things I see or touch or hear generate countless questions. I see a dragonfly in the back yard of my house and think about predator/prey interactions and wonder what it is eating (ideally mosquitos, but do they really eat mosquitos?) and I also wonder what nearby pond it hatched from after its metamorphosis, and the quality of the water in that pond…. As I return to my weeding, I think about seed rain and wonder how long those weeds have been waiting there to sprout. I think about weeding as simulated herbivory, and wonder what chemical signals this seedling and the plants around it are screaming out in response.
While walking the dogs in the park, I easily recognize Ribes and snack without fear on ripe blackcurrants, as I notice that they appear to only grow in the cottonwood shade along the stream. My shoes kick up the snow of the cottonwood seeds, and I think about wind dispersal and wonder how far they go on this windswept prairie. I look around for fallen cottonwood leaves to find one with a gall at the base, and think about how the community of gall-forming insects in one cottonwood tree is different from the community in the next tree over, and that difference increases as the trees are less related to each other. Even this glass of wine I’m sipping now after the walk is alive and connected to everything else. It raises questions of its own, about the communities of yeast that guided its transformation from grape juice to elixir of life. If I were feeling spiritual, I would suggest that this sixth sense is a state of grace, experienced by me as an animal in my world. Rather like my dog’s effortless soaring pounce upon a rustle in the newly mown stubble of a wheat field, at one with everything regardless of the outcome.