I discovered something recently that probably shouldn't have surprised me, but it did.
For whatever reason, the weather during both of my trips to England was stupendous. The first time I was there, it was late March and all of April. The second time was from early January through late June. While Pennsylvania groaned under the wintry weight of an unmoved blanket of snow for four weeks straight, I was wearing light coats and enjoying brisk but pleasantly sunny walks through the Grantchester Meadows. The real clincher though was that on my walks along Silver Street out to the Sidgwick Site, I would pass by large grassy area where crocuses were pushing up their pale spikes and beginning to bloom in a flowery carpet... before the end of February.
I brought this up recently, sort of absentmindedly, to a coworker of mine. Crocuses have always been a sign of spring for me, maybe more so even than robins, because when I was a child, our neighbors had a huge bed of crocuses in their front yard. We would walk past it every day when I went with my mother on her paper route rounds. So I feel as though I've never not known what crocuses are. Or daffodils, tulips, irises, English ivy, mimosa trees, zinnias (which are precisely the sort of friendly but stupid flower that you would expect something named "zinnia" to be), chrysanthemums, larkspur, Queen Anne's lace, hydrangeas and hyacinths, lilacs, fuchsias, pansies (which are amiable, practical, and not at all stupid), lavender, daisies, black-eyed Susans (I love that name), sunflowers, poppies and peonies, pine versus spruce versus fir... I used to pore over Burpee seed catalogs, picking out my favorite flowers and thinking how hideous cockscomb is, like some kind of strange sea creature that I'd be more likely to see in a National Geographic underwater film than in someone's garden.
But my coworker, bless his heart, had no idea what a crocus was. My mind was blown. To me, a crocus is like a basic shape that you learn in elementary school. This is a crocus, that is a triangle. Easy. Knowledge that you have forever.
There is something so intimate in the knowing of the natural world. As if, when you walked outside, you were greeted by a thousand friends or by soon-to-be friends, whose easy acquaintance might be made with the mere uttering of the spell. What's in a name? The summons that knows it will be answered because it cannot help but be answered. I say your name in a conversation on the other side of a crowded, noisy room, and you look up, because it is a command to attention even when I do not wish to engage in such tyranny.
And I feel as though I know so very little, but I want to know more, to be brought into that place where mere recognition surpasses itself into friendship. The name summons, greets, but it also distinguishes one from another. A tautology: you are you, unique unto yourself. The infinite variety of the world unfolds before us in a language whose grammar has been lost, leaving us only with its proper nouns, and even those feel unfamiliar on our urbanized tongues.
Yet it's a closer thing, to at least speak those names, however few, than to know none of them at all.