The Rhyme and Reason of Nature

a prairie of flowers and blue skyI live in Illinois, nicknamed The Prairie State. I often take walks on a two and a half mile path that circumvents me around land that is mostly prairie. In the prairie, nature looks like a hodgepodge of different plants in complete disarray. But, even in all of that apparent disorder there is much rhyme and reason.

Nature works in cycles. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west every twenty-four hours, literally like clockwork. That is due to the fact that the earth rotates on its axis once every 24 hours, from west to east. This is a diurnal (daily) cycle which is an example of a sidereal cycle which describes a moving object (earth) in relation to a fixed background (its axis).

The yearly cycle is also a sidereal cycle as the earth makes one revolution around the sun approximately every 365 days. Throughout the year, the position of the earth in relation to the sun changes and that creates our seasons which are marked by the Summer and Winter Solstices and the Spring and Fall Equinoxes.

The diurnal and yearly cycles are just a few that are found in nature.

The carbon cycle recycles carbon atoms from the atmosphere to plants to animals to earth and back to the atmosphere again. For instance, plants need carbon for photosynthesis (the conversion of carbon to sugars) to occur. Some animals eat those plants. Then, other animals might eats those animals. Then, those animals die and their bodies decompose, producing carbon which ends up back into the soil or the atmosphere.

Another example of the carbon cycle is the relationship between plants and humans. Have you ever heard that it is healthy to talk to plants? That is because plants need the carbon dioxide that we expire when we breathe. The gas that plants emit is the same gas that humans need to breathe – oxygen. It’s a win-win!

The water cycle is a very easy one to understand and relate to. It rains. The rainwater that lands in bodies of water – oceans, pools, puddles – evaporates back into the atmosphere which will someday return as rain or some other form of precipitation. The rainwater that falls on land either runs off into a body of water or is converted directly into the atmosphere in a process called transpiration. It is a never-ending cycle.

The last example is a single plant, let’s say a crabapple tree. During the course of a year, a crabapple tree will bud, bloom, leaf out (green), drop blooms, have leaves turn colors, have leaves fall, go dormant, and start the process all over again. This cycle runs every year, almost like clockwork.

The point of this post is that nature isn’t chaotic or accidental. Everything about nature is orderly, systematic, cyclical, and rhythmical. Even the surprises of nature, such as earthquakes and hurricanes can be explained and sometimes even predicted.

Science and nature go together. Science explains nature…to a point. Because, as humans, we are still discovering how it all works.