Nature Love Stories, in Homage to Valentine’s Day

Each day this week, leading up to Valentine’s Day, campus is posting a “first love” nature story, written by campus scientists, on the “What Can I Do About Climate Change?” blog.

As noted by Kat Kerlin, who created this blog series, “I believe that direct experience with the natural world, particularly as young people, can be a climate action in itself, and can instill a desire to protect those places we love and the creatures who rely on them — including us!”

Love Story No. 1 was written by Andrew Latimer, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, who studies how plants respond to change, including fire, drought and climate change.

The children of UC Davis Professor Andrew Latimer run down a hill he describes in his nature “first love” story. The photo was taken in 2007, during one his last visits. (Courtesy Andrew Latimer)

Love Story No. 1, by Andrew Latimer

What might be my oldest memory is a mental snapshot of rolling a hay bale down a hill past my mother, in the middle of a big meadow with my best friend. The hay bale was shoulder-high, but we could just get it to tip. We could smell the June grasses and herbs dried and compressed into that scratchy, warm block.

Sometimes, when I’m on the crest of a hill and feel the wind blowing from far away across a valley, it still seems like grace that the big, open world can be so gentle that even coming from so far away, the wind blowing across your bare arm can feel light and easy.

Below that hill lay other fields in various stages of succession. In a gorge downstream, old hemlocks sifted snow and shone green in winter. When we were older, we built forts in red maple stands and ate wild grapes after school. To us, this was nature, though the land had been clearcut, abandoned decades before, then repurposed as city watershed. Not a wilderness, but wild, it inspired awe and a kind of love.

I became a scientist to learn the rules that shape patchworks of forest and grassland and govern how they change. Has it worked? I have spent far too little time at my field sites. But when I look out across a forest or meadow, I think I have a better sense of how the ecosystem and its parts are responding to higher CO2. At least, I have more questions.

I don’t go back to that Connecticut farm anymore, because my family and best friend moved away. But I still find echoes of it everywhere. Weeds in the sandbox. The first midges of spring. Small, tangled waste spaces between highways and behind school buildings.

Andrew Latimer, UC Davis

Decades along now myself, I feel ever more in love with the world’s transient forms of beauty.

(Andrew Latimer, Dept. of Plant Sciences, UC Davis, amlatimer@ucdavis.edu)

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