Almanack Essays: Parish Phenology

The field of Nature being beyond the power of any one man to cultivate in full, let everyone begin with his own parish, and till that area intensively.

Gilbert White

The work of observation is the work of penetrating and transforming…. The deeply observing mind is not merely an observer but a participant. Only when the observer is a participant can there be transformation.

Thich Nhat Hahn, on the “Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness”

The “parish” phenological observer, one who watches what-happens-when in the local world of nature, gathers and collates scraps of information. To the parish phenologist, all the pieces are useful pieces, all the pieces have meaning.

The natural history of any region offers an endless number of primary sources, and the process of collecting and cataloging can be the occasion not only for compulsive distraction but also for making associations and making sense.

No recorder is ever truly indifferent to the project he or she undertakes. The note taker ultimately becomes selective. The selectivity creates a specialization, and a kind of private curriculum appears from the ongoing act of watching. Sometimes that curriculum becomes science, sometimes backyard natural history, sometimes autobiography, sometimes philosophy.

The concept of awareness is fundamental to a whole range of psychological and spiritual events in a progression towards some kind of fulfillment or awakening or relationship. Phenology is one form of journey to the center, a method of penetrating and cultivating consciousness. Absorbed in the year’s metronome of fauna and flora, the mind can empty itself of other issues.

Awareness of natural events also provides simple mantras for daily living. Then the whole swell of the year becomes a koan with which to contemplate the parish, even for puzzling out a personal space there, finally, perhaps, for participation and transformation.

Bill Felker





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *