Licorice Fern, Polypodium Glycyrrhiza

It’s About Time

Gray whales, ferns and the fundamental theories of science

The turn of the calendar year comes, not coincidentally, at the turn of the solar year. It would be appropriate to celebrate New Year’s Day the day after winter solstice. The solstices are milestones in the cycle of nature, not end and starting points.

The peak of gray whale southward migration that began last month continues for a week or two in January. The mosses that began their new growth with October rains are developing reproductive branches. Spring flowering plants have leaves emerging from the ground and buds swelling on tips of twigs. Cold, rainy days give us reason to move slowly and contemplate.

Now is a good time to ponder that a century ago Einstein was polishing up his relativity theories of the cosmos that bracket the universe, from infinitesimally small to unimaginably expansive. 

Just over a century and a half ago Darwin published the theory of evolution by natural selection. These are the fundamental theories of science that give us our deepest understanding of the real world. Natural history — recording direct observation of nature around us — remains, in my view, at the core of our common science experience. 

Personal knowledge of nature being transmitted from one generation to the next by learning about the real, natural world is a wonderful thing. 

Even as new subatomic particles are discovered and gravitational waves detected from across the universe, we can all participate in the practice of science by learning the birds and flowers and passing this knowledge to our children. 

Botanist David Wagner has worked in Eugene for 40 years. His 2018 Oregon Nature Calendar is available at Down to Earth in Eugene or by contacting him at

Comments are closed.