I am owner of the sphere, of the seven stars and the solar year….
Ralph Waldo Emerson: “History”
Every present has a past of its own, and any imaginative reconstruction of the past aims at reconstructing the past of this present, the present in which the act of imagination is going on, as here and now perceived.
R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History
Throughout the forest preserve near my home, tall wood nettle, honewort, waterleaf, wingstem, ironweed, weathering May apples, and touch-me-nots have obscured the web of spring: all the trilliums, the violet cress, the ragwort, the purple phlox, toothwort, Jack-in-the pulpit and bluebells.
In my garden, great hosta leaves have covered the foliage of snowdrops, aconites, crocus and scilla. Pigweed, creeping Charlie, wild violets, waterleaf, dandelions and amaranth have filled in all around the remnants of the April windflowers. The stalks of hyacinths, daffodils and tulips have fallen over and are ceding to the next planting of zinnias and Mexican sunflowers.
A listing of those flowers is like a recitation of historical facts. Like dates or events in human history, they are lost or do not make sense unless they are recreated in my mind. Memory and imagination tell the stories, fill in the setting with details of sound, taste, texture and color and odor, connect the stories to other stories.
The meaning of natural history, like the meaning of human history, is dependent on my reenactment of what I saw happen or of what I believed happened. Without the thinking of or the telling of what has occurred, things lose their place, become disconnected, make no sense. So I go back over what has taken place in the woods and garden. I relive as best I can the steps which brought me here, review their sequences pulled from underneath the overgrowths of previous phases.
The sediment of passage dissolves so quickly. Natural science only goes part of the way. It is I who must move beyond the names and dates, defend imperfect memory and insufficient data with fantasy, fill in the past with my own truth. I am, like Emerson might suggest, “the owner of the sphere,” and I am responsible for not only my own narrative but for that of the world around me.