Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Psychedelic Teeming

Leafing through some meteorological books in the Library this past winter, I serendipitously stumbled across a blurb about phenology. Not phrenology, mind you, but phenology, which the USA National Phenological Network has nicely defined as:

the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

It's that last bit that I like the most, the part about how easy it is (with a little foresight and discipline, mind you) to become more mindful and aware of all the climatically inspired "events" going on around you... and to record them! Aldo Leopold's daughter, Nina, has continued on in her father's spirit, keeping highly detailed phenological records of her family's property in Sauk County, Wisconsin. And after emerging from the bruising of another 6-month Chicago winter, with a final insult courtesy of mercury-dropping lake-effect winds, I like the idea of looking for new and interesting (edifying even!) ways to engage with the unruly climatic variables of where I've come to make my home.

What I think I like most about phenology is how it reframes the way we engage or observe the natural world. There's a strong spirit of collaboration at its core that I like a lot too, with citizen scientist networks actively pooling their observational data together on plants, animals and landscapes.

I like the idea of being more attuned to the subtle and not so subtle phenological events. Especially now. There's phenology going on everywhere. It's crazy with the teeming in Chicago right now. It's this lysergic kind of green--there's a psychedelic aspect to just how vivid some of the greens are. The flowering on all the trees especially. It's a shimmering pool-bottom green.

Like most, I've always found this time of year to be one of the most naturally dramatic. These first 4 months have been the wettest on meteorological record (my little Megan has begun her life in a deluge), so those days, like today, where the sun managed to sustain its presence, have had a drama all their own.

And not surprisingly, I really like that phenology is concerned with the recording of these changes. Not just through writing and statistical record keeping, but through a visual record. The next step, then, is to make a short documentary about phenology for the Library. I'm hoping to storyboard this one, too. Something about checking out a book from the Library and by reading it becoming (suddenly!) aware of the phenological events happening all around me. Ending with a little nature trip. Got to be funny. Too little humor in the pedagogical bent of citizen science. Too little humor in the Library. Got to work on that one!


Joe said...

I'd be interested in the phenological documentation of the physical condition of library materials as they circulate over time.

Chris Breitenbach said...

Yeah! Pick a few of the new books right as they arrive from our vendor and then check back in with them over the course of a few years. The best would be to show them being checked out and taken to patron's that for a "climatic variable"?