Ed Fenzl is a practical man. "I like things that are functional, easy to maintain,…
NOTE: This article was originally published in the March 2015 issue of Vrai Magazine
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No kidding. Back in the day when I had the patience for girlfriends and my friends were like…hey man, you should get your girlfriend some flowers…and I was like….my girlfriend should be getting me flowers!! If that didn’t work I’d end up buying myself flowers and then telling the girlfriend they were for her. It was a good compromise to be sure but kind of like Fred Flintstone buying Wilma a bowling ball for Christmas…or my friend Jeff who seriously once upon a time bought his significant other golf clubs for her birthday knowing that she hated golfing and then wondered why she was mad. They didn’t last.
It is amazing to think that for a significant chunk of Earth’s history there were no flowers and that flowers only arose as a reproductive means. Flowers have been evolutionarily selected to attract pollinators – most of whom are invertebrates like bees and butterflies but with a generous helping from vertebrates like birds and bats. That all makes sense. It is an excellently skilled adaptation for propagation. Flowering plants now dominate nearly every single terrestrial ecosystem. But why are we humans also attracted to flowers? Why is it that they’ve also evolved to pull on us? They don’t really serve us any purpose.
But without a doubt this is true. The beauty of flowers and the pull of flowers on the human spirit is universally acknowledged:
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder” – Rumi
“Pink blooms on the trees/ released from winter’s cold spell/ spring has been set free.” – unknown
“The earth laughs in flowers.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“She wore flowers in her hair and carried magic secrets in her eyes. She spoke to no one. She spent hours on the riverbank. She smoked cigarettes and had midnight swims…” ― Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
“I must have flowers, always, and always.” ― Claude Monet
Amen to that Claude.
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The impact of flowers on the human spirit can be found across time and across cultures and from myths and poems and haikus to painting and medicine and magic and the magic of music.
Well…and they are purty. Well, yes. Flowers certainly are pretty but is the love of flowers an aesthetic experience only?
It may be that an appreciation for the aesthetic is a mammalian adaptation that likewise crosses species. We animals are attracted by food and water and by mates and shelter but the mammalian experience….and increasingly we are finding this is not limited to just mammals….can extend beyond this to find attraction in aspects of the world that go beyond the fulfillment of basic needs to larger favorable conditions that cup our basic needs like a nest. A home. It may be that humans have a higher attraction to aesthetic pleasure because the aesthetically pleasing is a sign of what is whole.
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Because why would we have evolved a sense that a thing is beautiful even if it is not directly useful? Food is beautiful. Think of a cluster of berries or a tomato peaking form under the leaves. Food is useful. But certainly flowers are more beautiful. And less useful.
Let us go from the small to the large here. Flowers have an ordered complexity and a structure that are specific. Pollinators and flowers evolved together in mutually beneficial support, each developing a specificity and intricacy of body parts that is truly a master of creation and reflecting a beauty of fertility as a signal and a sign.
Those subtle variations at a nearly microscopic level – if successful – together signal the wholeness of an ecosystem – an ecosystem of fecundity. And perhaps home.
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Humans were born into a planet of flowers. Through the millions of years of evolution humans crossed landscapes of distinct habitats each hosting their own distinct flowers depending on climate, elevation, aspect and soil structure. Over time we developed, perhaps, a genetic map that structured our brain to see flowers as a sign that our basic needs of food, water, shelter and sex – and at some point even medicine – were more likely to be met in a location thickly populated by flowering plants….delicate structures that thrived in ecosystems of fertility.
An oasis in a desert.
The beauty of flowers then is a symbol and signal to the human brain that safety and comfort are near at hand. That needs will be met. And flowers are purty.
And that is why I like flowers.
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