On Saturday night the deer raided the garden. They stripped the leaves off the rose bush, munched on the fresh green shoots of the daylilies, nibbled at the marble-shaped sedum shoots, and mauled the flowering pulsatilla. Then they had the temerity to leave a pile of scat right in the middle of the perennial garden.
The next morning I went out to take my daily garden pictures, which I plan to turn into a time lapse of garden growth over the year. I went to each specific location (marked with a rock) and took my pictures, then wandered between the rock garden and the upper perennial garden and back into the house.
In all that time taking photos, I didn’t even notice the deer devastation. It wasn’t until the evening when my husband was poking around the garden that he noticed that they’d been there. He was surprised I hadn’t seen it while taking my pictures.
Which made me wonder – how do we notice things and what sticks in our mind?
I consider myself an observant person. I notice when plants are flowering and when the grass needs mowing. I notice the moon at night and the stars that form the big dipper. I notice the call of the red-winged blackbird, back for the spring. And, of course, I notice the frog chorus – how could I not, when they’re yelling their frog song at top volume every night? I notice when my book themes have become strong enough to connect between chapters. I notice when the carpet needs vacuuming. When the milk supply is low. When someone eats a piece of the cake I’d set aside for the next day.
I am a huge fan of Mary Oliver’s quote: “To pay attention, that is our endless and proper work.”
But it seems I’m not quite putting that quote into action if I didn’t notice the deer destruction in the garden while taking pictures.
It speaks to a selective blindness. When I take my pictures, I’m not looking at the individual plants, but am looking at the entire garden and figuring out how to incorporate it into my viewfinder. I am trying to ensure that I take the exact same picture every day, so the time lapse doesn’t jump around too much. I bracket each image with particular plants and landmarks, so that each photo will overlap between days.
This isn’t really an excuse for not seeing the deer damage. If anything, I should at least have seen the pile of scat they left behind. But it’s a note about how we notice different things at different times depending on what we’re doing.
It’s kind of like when people talk about plant blindness. Say you go for a walk and can identify all the different birds you see, but have no idea about the vegetation around you. It’s just there, as vegetation. This has been termed “plant blindness,” because you know nothing about the plants. But is that really a bad thing? Can we really know everything about the natural world that we’re immersing ourselves in?
For my birthday this past week, my husband got me a book called The Wild Remedy, How Nature Mends Us by Emma Mitchell. Mitchell suffers from depression, and writes in this book about moving from the city to the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens, where she takes up a daily walking practice that requires her to pay attention to all of the life around her. She collects specimens of things: shells, acorns, feathers, branches, etc. and makes small images out of them. She draws the nature she sees, whether that’s a common darter (dragonfly) or a bird or a branch of holly. She feels that her focused walks help her depression, as they take her out of her head and into the natural world around her.
Perhaps this should be my goal with my photography project. Not just capturing the full extent of the garden in each photo frame, but using my photography time to take a closer look at what’s sprouting and what’s not, what needs pruning and what doesn’t, where the deer have been and where they haven’t.
This morning I went outside to take my pictures and I looked closely at the gardens in between shots. The daisies and yarrow and rudbeckia are all sprouting. The lavatera got some frostbite this past winter and needs some pruning. The cherry tree should be in blossom soon, though maybe not with the cool air temperatures predicted for the next week. The rhododendrons have several flower buds each. The magnolia, though small and spindly, looks like it will have several nice blooms this spring (assuming the deer don’t come back and eat the buds – though we discovered where they got in and reinforced the fence against them). The camellia, same as last year, is doing nothing – not even setting blooms and not growing much bigger than when I first planted it. The heather is a nice bright white and pink, and the thyme is creeping down the rocks in the perennial garden. The gravel path needs weeding – a chore I’m only halfway done. And while the vinca are flowering in the woodland garden, that garden also needs raking, to get all the pinecones and extra branches off it.
I know what’s happening in my garden most of the time. Sometimes I lose track and look at the big picture instead of the individual plant picture. Now I’ll spend more time between photos looking at what’s growing and what’s not – what’s been eaten and what hasn’t – and I’ll still have my daily photos to compare.