I am used to knowing where I am and even who I am by what I see and name around me. I tell my time that way, too.
But when I visited my daughter in Italy this past June, we walked the fields of Umbria, and we crossed over to Sicily and then to Sardinia, and I was surrounded by plants I could not name.
In the Mediterranean landscape, I saw shapes that would have been so simple for even an amateur botonizer to identify, but which were, to me, plants of a parallel universe.
Some were tightly wrapped purple-blues, some were spread wide open whites, holding nothing back, petal after petal of wide-eyed hands to touch me, some shy and tiny and pink, others rough and prickly, full of bees, golden, their family, genus and species all lost on me.
So instead of counting petals and noting the placement of leaves, as I might have done if I had wanted to classify these flowers, I stroked their sleek, forgiving shapes that gave way easily under my touch. I kissed their anthers and their sepals. I found bright and fleshy lips that fragrantly returned my favors.
I rubbed my nose against them instead of analyzing them. I squeezed their leaves between my fingers, the better to absorb their scent. I listened to the names they gave to me instead of to the names I would have given them.
Set free from nomenclature that might have solved the taxonomic puzzles, I encountered creatures in themselves, stroked and licked and sniffed, the lesson right in front of me, that words and order are so often distracting and deceptive. The body is syntax enough. Sight and hearing, taste and smell and touch are the true parts of speech.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the second week of middle fall. In the meantime, throw away your grammars. The world is waiting.