We're All In This Together
in the most unlikely places. Recent studies are showing plants may be far more than the
yard decorations and colorful picture elements we’ve taken them for. These beings that
we’ve always considered to be merely ground cover are capable of movement,
communication--yes, they can talk to their neighbors--and even arithmetic--some
species need to know the hours of darkness and calculate if they have enough starch to
survive the night. Charles Darwin recognized intelligent, purposeful movement in plants,
and he even wrote a book on it. The scientific community ignored his findings for more
than 120 years.
It’s not like we’re the only ones who don’t consider the feeling of plants in our daily dealings with them. We all do what we have to do in order to survive, and sometimes the plants suffer.
We don’t even know how intelligent plants are because we are not smart enough to
communicate with them. The problem is they use chemical cues rather than auditory
ones to talk to the plants and animals around them, and this is a language Rosetta
Stone© doesn’t cover. Plants are as aware of our presence as any animal, more aware
than many. They are even self aware, which puts them way above most animals in
intelligence, at least by the way we measure such things. There is also considerable
evidence they feel pain. Any time plants are wounded, they emit ethylene, a familiar
pain killer. There may another answer, but it seems logical to assume they emit a pain
killer when they feel pain.
If only we could decipher the chemical language between plants and their environment, who knows what wonders we would discover.
What are the implications of these discoveries? Well, one of the big arguments for the
vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is that it is kinder to feeling creatures, and that was a valid
point until these recent discoveries. It turns out that even though plants don’t have
faces, and even though their seat of intelligence may not be a brain per se, they do feel
and they are aware. Harvesting fruit or grain may be just as painful for them as plucking
off pieces of us would be. We raise many plants just to kill them so we can survive.
There is simply no getting around the fact that for one being to live, other beings,
whether they are animals or plants, must die. We are utterly dependent upon other
living beings paying the ultimate price so that we may live. We are more closely tied to
the rest of creation than we can possibly imagine.
For us, flowers are nothing more than ornamentation, and for many species they are only nourishment. But who knows how much more they truly are. Keep in mind that for tigers humans are merely tiger food.
Whether we are aware of it or not, almost anywhere we point a lens in the natural world,
we are photographing a life and death struggle. The struggle may not be obvious. It may
even appear completely harmless--a porcupine nibbling on a flower or a field of many
species in bloom--but there is a struggle occurring. Of course, just to make things more
complicated, at the same time as this struggle for available resources is going on, there
is also a constant discussion or dialogue between the protagonists, establishing
boundaries, making or breaking treaties, and deciding who to cooperate with and who to
fight tooth and nail.
Regardless of their other qualities, flowers brighten up and make just about any image more interesting.
The idea that we are better or more evolved than other species because we don’t need
to kill thinking, feeling beings no longer holds water. What’s more, the knowledge of
whether it’s better to kill animals or plants to survive is forever beyond our grasp. The
fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is forbidden to us, and consequently,
just like every other plant and animal we see, all we can do is muddle through as best
we can. For me at least, being a nature photographer helps. The camera lens makes
me an intimate part of the ongoing conflict/cooperation, and makes it easier to rejoice in our connection to it. This is what makes the world go round.
This is so much more than a colorful meadow. Complex struggles are in play here, partnerships are being forged, decisions are being made to help one’s progeny. And we are totally oblivious to everything but the pretty colors because most of the action is occurring at the root tips.