I walked in a soft gray drizzle this morning. Shiny green leaves dripped, and honeysuckle scented the path. As I walked, I listened to Krista Tippet’s On Being interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer. They talked about the intelligence of plants. Kimmerer wrote a gorgeous book, Braiding Sweetgrass, which I read after it arrived unexpectedly in the mail one day from my friend Gracie (thank you Gracie!), and she wrote Gathering Moss, which I didn’t read, but which apparently inspired Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, which I did read and I loved, and now I want to read Gathering Moss because moss is soft and green and clever and resilient.
As I walked among glistening grass and dewy daisies, Kimmerer described the day she showed up at the forestry school in college. When she arrived, she said she wanted to study botany because she wanted to know why goldenrod and asters look so beautiful together. Kimmerer had grown up exploring forests and learning from the natural world rather than about the natural world, and this was the perspective she brought to her academic career.
As you can probably imagine, she was told you don’t study beauty in science; to do that you should go to art school. But she was not deterred, and as she studied, she was able to find an answer: goldenrod and aster are opposite colors on the color wheel, which is pleasing to our eyes and we consider beautiful, and also, when positioned near each other as Kimmerer so often saw goldenrod and aster growing, those vivid colors attract more pollinators than if the two plants grew apart. And pollinators are part of a flower’s story; life wants to live, and pollinators help keep plants going.
So each of those plants benefits by combining its beauty with the beauty of the other.Robin Wall Kimmerer
And that’s a question that science can address, certainly, as well as artists. And I just think that Why is the world so beautiful? is a question that we all ought to be embracing.