Whilst fretting about his inability to recall certain plant names
Richard Mabey in Nature Cure examines his need to know.
It seems to be a basic human reaction,
the first steps in beginning a relationship:
'What's your name?'
So why bother, an unfamiliar, relaxed voice inside me says.
Why not simply relish the spring's new life
(and your new life, for goodness' sake) -
its exquisite variation, the interplay of the yellow moss ground,
the filigree sedges, the solid mass of tussocks,
the growingness of it all?
Well I can, I think, but don't find it easy to stop there.
Some inner tic - not just an intellectual reflex -
makes me want to know who they all are.
Some years ago, when he was toying with Zen Buddhism,
John Fowles suggested that,
'the name of the plant is a pane of dirty glass
between you and it.'
I've never been able to share this feeling,
even though I understand what he was getting at.
It seems to me that naming a plant,
and for that matter any living thing,
is a gesture of respect towards its individuality,
its distinction from the generalised green blur.
It is, in a way, exactly a gesture:
as natural and clarifying as pointing.
The kind of name - scientific, popular,
fantastical, pet - scarcely matters,
provided someone can communicate it.