Imprecision’s Virtues

October 9, 2015

“You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft: a certain free margin and even vagueness — ignorance, credulity — helps your enjoyment of these things.”
— Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

Clematis seedhead

Clematis seedhead

I certainly fit Whitman’s description of someone who appreciates the aesthetics of things without understanding their scientific workings or names.  When I go out into the world, my eye seeks beautiful and interesting shapes and patterns, and I often don’t know what exactly I am looking at.

I remember the first time I photographed a clematis seedhead.  I sent the photo to the Plant Answer Line at the Elisabeth C. Miller horticultural library, and they identified it for me.  I don’t always take the time for this type of research, but I do appreciate how the internet connects me so easily with experts who are willing to share their knowledge with a stranger.  We live in a marvelous world!

I am drawn to the clematis seedheads because they make me smile.  Their swirly, feathered tails are like looking into a miniature whirlpool.  There is something funny about their fluffy, ball shape — kind of like waking up to a bad hair day.  At other times, I love the grace of their calligraphic lines.

Here are some clematis in the early October gardens of Jello Mold Farm:

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One Response to “Imprecision’s Virtues”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    My favorite clematis is our native: Clematis drummondii. Here’s a collection of images of the flowers in their various stages that I think you’ll enjoy.

    I was struck by Whitman combining birds, trees, flowers and watercraft in his observation. That strikes me as funny, and appropriate.

    The tone also reminds me of his poem, “When I heard the learn’d astronomer.” I take his point — lack of knowledge “about” doesn’t preclude enjoyment “of” — but I’ve found the opposite to be true, as well. Gaining more knowledge about what I’m looking at tends to increase my enjoyment. It certainly doesn’t lessen it.


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