Those who read my other blog, Sunrays and Saturdays, will know that I have begun to post a number of entries from old journals that I wrote dating back to the 1970's. I had intended those entries to remain on that blog but when I read this one it somehow seemed to fit more appropriately here.
From Journal 1 - 03/12/1980
Man has a propensity to name things, to lump things together, to categorise and collect, to recognize similarities. This in turn leads to a fear of differences or at least a blindness. I mentioned previously that my perceptions of the bushlands had heightened in recent years, I now believe that I have still not reached the ultimate in perception; I am not yet one with the bush. My familiarity has bred a love but not yet a oneness. There are at least three stages to our perceptions. Firstly there is that stage in which we see but do not perceive. We, as children, perceive the bush as a single entity. Few children are aware of the differences between a mountain forest and a lowland forest, each are alien and each therefore to be feared.
The second stage manifests itself differently in different people. With familiarity of the bush we lose the fear and begin to gain respect. For some this is enough; for others, myself included, there is a need to recognize elements of the bush, to place names to familiar items like flora or fauna. These people can enter bushland almost anywhere and see something they know, but this kind of cold academic appraisal for some breeds a peculiar kind of contempt.
The ultimate in perception is not where we recognize the similarities but where we can perceive the differences. For the true marvel is not that anything in a category has the same name as any other thing in that category, but that each is different. A spiderweb in one place is not the same as a spiderweb in another, they differ in size, shape, time of day, time of year, whether it is windy or still. The bush is not static as naming things implies and no matter how man times we return to the same place, if we are aware of it’s ability to change we shall never tire of it.
I was in my honours year at university in 1980, studying geography, specifically palynology, which is the study of fossil pollen grains. Before anyone asks, I had collected a core of sediment from a small lake in the mountains of Gippsland in my home state of Victoria. The core was five meters in length and sampled at 5cm intervals and looking at the distribution of fossil pollen throughout the core I was able to determine a vegetation history for that area that stretched back beyond 30,000 well into the last Ice Age.
As an aside, I completed that thesis in 1981, at a time when it was hand typed and the diagrams hand drawn - interestingly doing a search on google tonight I came across several references to that thesis, and found that the work I commenced there has been expanded upon by many subquent researchers, not only in palynology, but sedimentology as well. And it is gratifying to know that the name I gave that small basin in 1979, Caledonia Fen, is widely used and has become a site of significance in the vegetation and climatic history of Australia.
So I was exposed to a whole new world during those years, learning the taxonomy of plants and enjoying the fact that when I did go into the bush I could identify plants that a few short years before I would not have given a second glance to.
Study had a profound effect on my curiosity, I yearned to know more and I enjoyed the way my perception of things was changing. When I read this post I wondered when that curiosity became stifled, when the boy’s excitement became the man’s practicalities. Have I really gotten to the point where the wonder of the bush has left me, or has it just been cloaked in responsibility and shelved because the pressures of marriage and fatherhood intervened?
It is time to rediscover wonder, to appreciate difference and to try and prevent the categorization of life. Time to remove the blinkers and once more seek knowledge for nothing other than the sake of knowledge.