I’ve been thinking a lot about the senses, and about how much our culture favors the visual one. As a result a lot of my experiments of late delve into the auditory realm. In reading Jame’s Bridle’s “Ways of Being”, though, I began to wonder about another sense we might possess, which is attunement to change through the passage of time.
This is the concept of Phenology - the study of not how things appear, but when. It is an interesting dichotomy of skills I think we struggle with - the ability to pay close attention to the present moment, over extended periods of time and repetition.
Bridle gives an example: As Greenland caribou return to year after year to their summer breeding grounds they arrive to find the plants on which they are accustomed to grazing have already bloomed and withered - a phenological mismatch resulting from changing climatic temperatures.
The global mean velocity of climate change, according to Bridle, is around half a kilometer a year - the distance, essentially, a plant must travel to live in the same conditions it did a year before. Plants then, are nomads, wanderers - and even if we pot them they spread their seed - thus migrating according to their own sensibilities, on their own timescale, in some sense intuiting and adapting to climate change better than we do, without the frenetic impatience through which we move about the world.
I remember feeling enlightened reading Jenny O’Dell’s “How to Do Nothing”, on thinking about how our attention might be one of our strongest forms of resistance - attention must, inevitably, be given by the possessor. I wonder if the same thing might be true with the speed at which we choose to live our lives.
“It is with acts of attention that we decide who to hear, who to see, and who in our world has agency. In this way, attention forms the ground not just for love, but for ethics.” ― Jenny Odell, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
I have submerged myself in the tech culture of “move fast and break things”, and “action leads to insight more than insight leads to action”, and only recently begun to question whether the tidal wave of action we generate might not be the cause of our own (literal and metaphorical) drowning - evolving at a pace that leaves us no time for phenological observation and understanding.
I often observe, when I visit my small-town childhood mountain home, a distinct change of pace - in speech, in gait, in level of activity, in physical velocity - and it occurs to me that we all have agency over the timescale we want to live on. If we do not choose, it is chosen for us. We can make this choice not only individually, but collectively.
On the heels of his introduction to Phenology, James Bridle describes a pattern of movement by growing plants called Circumnutation - an upward and outward turn. I like that he describes it as almost ritualistic, “a blessing to the four directions: ‘Hello World.’” I wonder though too if it might not be careful observation, on a timescale we cannot comprehend - a daily, daylong investigation of the shifting winds and all the changes there foretold, if only we lend it our attention