Today is my birthday! Yay! And tomorrow is Easter! Happy Easter, if you celebrate!
I’m running around crazy this weekend so I asked my boyfriend Colin to write another guest post, since his post last week got great feedback. He’s planning on starting his blog, Voices Walking, at the beginning of April. He’ll start along with the A-Z Challenge (which I’m also doing), so these guest posts are his way of testing the water of the blogosphere before diving in.
Tomorrow I’m doing one of those chain blog post question things, but regular Playground posting will resume on Monday. Without further ado, Colin’s post about his trek through the Mexican jungle, Flowers and Wine:
Last summer I watched a documentary called “Somme,” about new sommeliers training for their exam by testing each other’s palates and aptitude at describing the flavors hidden within each wine. Watching these people with seemingly superhuman aptitudes to taste and smell, I was inspired: I wanted to be like them, something about the sheer depth of knowledge and carefully honed senses made me tremble with envy. How could one possibly embark on a journey like this? When I can barely taste the difference between a red and a white, how could I cultivate a palate to match the excitement that sparkled in the sommeliers’ eyes for their craft?
I recently met someone else with that same joy, that sparkle in the eyes and the inability to sit still and not explore a new flavor. While in a botany class, hiking through the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, I felt an immediate desire to learn how to savor each and every plant around me, thanks to the bright-eyed excitement of our professor. Having that joy in your work, coupled with the skill of knowing deeply every secret in a fern’s leaves, is deeply infectious to me. It makes me want to learn, to have that same passion. Watching him identify a plant was just like watching a master savor a taste of wine. He would look the plant up and down, drinking in the intricacies of the shape and texture through his hand lens. Next, he would tear up a leaf and smell deeply whatever odor it excreted, and bite into the stalk with the same tentativeness of a sommelier moving on from the swirl to the first delicate sip. The sommelier lists the characteristics and pinpoints the exact variety of wine. The botanist does the same.
How do you develop this precision, this deep understanding of your craft? Luckily, I was blessed with an insight into the process, that was the point of this class after all, and my professor pushed us hard to understand the work behind such a passion. We had to understand the structure of plants, how they grow and reproduce. After that we had to know all the characteristics plants could keep, in order to differentiate between different groups and families. From there, we got to start our business in the cloud forests of Oaxaca, armed with a basic understanding of how plants work. We used all our senses to identify these plants, learning more families as we went on. We used broad stokes at first, but with time we got more precise, learning a few genera and species by the end. But in general, we were learning to taste a Merlot, but we weren’t pinpointing flavors, nor were we learning to taste the manufacturer or the region of production. Nevertheless, I loved learning, even on such a surface level, the skills required to place a plant in the Solanaceae or the Cucurbitaceae, the nightshade and squash families, respectively. It felt as though I was gaining a skill! And because of that I continue to find the specifics immensely beautiful, the small things people spend so much time honing their skills to identify out of sheer passion.
When I turn off the documentary or return from the forest, however… Those passions seem to fade. I study geography and global studies, two very open ending subjects in the all-too-often unspecific social sciences. Too few of my compatriots spend time to learn things. My school professes to teach students how to “think,” but how can one think when you aren’t required to know the details behind your hypothesis? The sommelier has his wine and the botanist his plants, but what do I have? One day I hope to find the specific thing that I can push myself to study and know inside and out. I’ll keep on looking, studying how the world works, and praying that one day I will be drawn to a subject less wide, but as deep as the sea.