The purple asters in the yard of my apartment building are as tall as I am and full of pollinators. I invited a neighbor to admire the pollen party. The guests were four kinds of bees—big furry bumblebees, honeybees, tiny bright green bees, and one enormous black bee with iridescent wings—and three kinds of butterflies. Though I’ve seen other species, this day’s visitors were a Western Pygmy Blue (the world’s smallest), a green butterfly with yellow spots on its wings, and a black one with white trim. In a ceaseless and seemingly random dance of wings and petals vibrating, they changed flowers and sought nectar again.
My neighbor and I became entranced, neither of ready to move on. He said, “They’re so busy, I feel a sense of accomplishment just watching them.” I said I felt the opposite way, that I was doing nothing at all but watching bees.
During the month of August, there were so many events scrolling through the electronic sign over the entrance to Elephant Butte Lake State Park that someone decided to remove the time-temperature-and-welcome from the cycle of reminders and announcements. Once I got used to not seeing those numbers when I rounded a high point on the trail with a view of the sign, I realized how absurdly attached I’d gotten to noting exactly how many minutes it had taken me to reach that spot and whether the temperature had gone up a degree. I enjoyed my runs more without this information snagging my mind. Now that there’s less going in in September, “Welcome to Elephant Butte Lake State Park 1:36 p.m. 87 degrees” is back. It still takes me exactly twenty-four minutes to reach the point where I can see it, and I can tell how warm it is without looking. What is it about numbers and measurement? Or even the desire to know something just because it’s there to be known?
I don’t have anything against knowledge. Practical knowledge enhances life, and useless learning is fun. I spied a large, almost squirrel-sized, New Mexico whiptail today. She did one pushup and disappeared under a bush. My useless knowledge informs me that she was a she because they all are—our state reptile is an all-female species. Trying to identify a delicate purple flower I admired, I searched online in vain, but I learned that among New Mexico wildflowers there are plants called Water Wally, Hairy Five Eyes, Bastard Toadflax, Blue Dicks, Redwhisker Clammyweed, and Bonker Hedgehog. (The last one is a small cactus.) I still don’t know the name of the purple flower. I think its bright yellow companion is snakeweed, but it may be chamisa. Chamisa’s botanical name is Ericameria nauseosa, which makes me want to create an unpleasant character named Erica Maria in some future book. This plant, or its purple friend, smells wonderful, not nauseosa, and that perception is a greater joy than the satisfaction of acquiring a fact such as its name. Globes of yellow blossoms on green stems and taller stalks with tiny purple blooms glow against the pale brown sand, and a rare whiff of floral sweetness surprises me as I run past. At exactly the same speed whether or not I measure myself.
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