One late summer afternoon, I was sharing the wonders of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus ) with families at a local water park. I pointed out the beautiful feathers, soft in texture, and patterned in tones of brown and white. These colors and shapes, along with the owl’s behavior, make the animal virtually invisible amongst the night time trees. As I talked about the techniques of camouflage of this nocturnal animal, the parents and children listened politely. Amongst them were some twelve year old boys whose attention was half split between the owl and the water slide; I continued.
The owl being a predator that swoops unto its prey, needs vision acute enough to find not only the rabbit but the scorpion, and measure to judge the distance of its next meal – and it must be able to do this all at night. So, along with other anatomical tools, owls have very large eyes. Eyes whose shape, size and absence of “eye muscles” are fixed in the skull – they can not “roll” their eyes within the skull as we can. To see the world around them, they must rotate their whole head and do this they have very flexible necks. A flexibility that allows a 270 degree rotation from its furthest reaches (from looking over the left shoulder to looking over the right shoulder); a flexibility that is accomplished by the owl having twice as many neck vertebrate as we do. After sharing all this wonder, I thanked the families and we both moved on to greet other families and activities.
A short time after this, one of the twelve year boys sought me out, he thanked me and stood there for a minute, looking back and forth at the owl and me. He finally fixed his gaze on me, and in very owl like fashion, his eyes widened reflecting the light about him, his face grew into a smile, and he said, ‘I get it, I get it! It all works together.’
And he did ‘Get It’, ‘By George, he got it’. Feeling like a modern day Professor Henry Higgins, I knew this young man had it right, ‘It does all work together’. And years later I still see this to be true, as I look beyond just one animal to the whole environment. As I look into the garden I see not just how one animal or plant works together in itself, but how they work together with each other. Every organism being an important part of another organism’s life contributing to the whole.
The garden is a wonderful microcosm to see it all working together. I do not mean the artificial constraints that we, people, put on it through our designs and interpretation, but how all the pieces fit together naturally. For each insect that has figured out how to get food from a plant there is a plant that has figured out how to get the insect to spread its pollen. Roots exude just the right chemicals that attract just the right microorganism, each giving and taking from the other what they need.
Look around us, ‘it’ does all work together and we are just starting to figure out how complex that can be. And we are we are part of ‘it’, not separate, so, let us work together.