偶遇四葉草

四葉草與幸運之間的關係⋯
By Teva Harrison From The Walrus

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小學三年級時,我們曾經在學校玩過一種尋寶遊戲,把粉筆、鉛筆、石頭,及沒藏好的小玩意兒找出來,迅速完成清單上的項目。比賽戰況激烈。我上氣不接下氣地來到一塊有酢漿草的草地,尋找最後一樣也是最難找的東西:四葉草。

我有把握能贏。我有一張王牌。事情是這樣的,打從有記憶以來,我就很會找四葉草。我就是看得到它們。

童年時,我會採集有四片葉子的酢漿草壓在書本裏。剛開始,我都用皮製精裝的大部頭書,像是喬伊斯的《尤里西斯》、莎士比亞全集、曾祖母的《孤星淚》等,一本書裏通常只藏一、兩枚,我希望它們變成一個驚喜,而不是預期中之事。等到沒有浪漫的精裝書可用之後,我開始把這些寶貝夾進所有我可以找到的書裏,像是一翻再翻的平裝推理小說、食譜等。今天在我家裏還是這樣,隨便拿起一本書搖一搖,就會有紙片般的寶物掉落你手中。

幾年前到加拿大旅遊,外子和我把車停到路邊野餐,地上長滿了酢漿草,有嫩芽冒出四、五片,甚至六片的葉子。我把它們排在野餐桌上欣賞,沒找到過一根四葉草的外子投以敬畏的目光。對我來說,那感覺就這麼簡單,它們外形的差異會自動現身,打破傳統酢漿草以完美三片葉形成的漂亮圖案。

去夏,我在德國的一個機場等候接駁車,在圓環處發現一棵小小的四葉草,我把它摘下放進護照裏。回程時,外子和我被升等至商務艙。朋友將此好運歸功於四葉草。我則認為我們被升等比較可能的原因是先前班機取消,使我們滯留兩座城市間,好心的客服人員對我們寄予同情罷了。

幸運究竟是來自發現四葉草,還是持有四葉草呢,眾說紛紜。有人相信要是讓人看見自己的四葉草,好運便會消失;但也有人相信轉送他人,好運會加倍。

我相信分享會增強正面效應。雖然我覺得能夠如此頻繁地找到四葉草很幸運,但我並不真的以為它們對我運勢或生活上實際層面的影響,有一絲一毫超過與旁人分享帶點特別的東西——好比你與別人同時俯身驚嘆於一個稀罕的發現物時,那種當下出現的短暫親密感。

幸運到底是什麼呢?是指不能將發生在你身上的事歸功於自己嗎?我是不是該把找到的四葉草全數留着,不給旁人呢?

我相信日常行為間蘊藏着不經意的神奇。單是知道要尋找什麼,和喜愛基因變異的酢漿草——亦即懂得珍惜差異,我認為就是一種幸運。

四葉酢漿草到底有何奧妙讓我們充滿奇妙感受?理由不光是少見。我老發現它們,但依舊忍不住去尋找。每回我看到有酢漿草的草地都會被吸引過去——被發現四葉草的可能性給拉過去。我感受到一股搜尋的衝動,非要手中握着一株四葉草不可。這算是一種狂熱吧!

四葉草究竟有多罕見?我一直以為它們不過是基因異常,再普通不過;試想我們在大自然中發現了多少突變啊。後來我才知道,酢漿草要長成四瓣的機率是萬分之一,可能是隱性基因、體細胞突變或環境影響使然。有可能是上述任何一種組合,但這不就是科學遇上了魔法嗎?

況且就算我經常發現它們,也稱不上真正本領卓絕。金氏世界紀錄保持人是美國阿拉斯加州的老愛德華.馬丁。他找到十一萬一千零六十株四葉草,於二○○七年寫下的紀錄。 話說回來,我愛的是找尋而非收集。我樂於將它們轉送給他人。要是親手交給公園裏的母親,她們會把它們拿給眼睛睜得大大的孩子們觀看。我送過一株給街角商店的店員,現在還掛在收銀機上方呢。我把它送給朋友,他們會塞在皮夾裏的名片之間,好好保存。

別人問我怎麼辦到的?答案是我喜愛酢漿草,它有甜甜的味道,常見三片一組可愛的葉片形狀,所以我比平常人花更多時間觀看它們。我料想這是我發現這麼多四葉草的主要原因。我養成一個習慣,用手指或腳趾輕輕劃過草皮,讓一根根草暫時分開,這會讓非常態的草現身。我認為調整視覺焦點也是找尋它們的重點之一——不要太用力,而是放輕柔。我讓眼睛放輕鬆,不規則的形狀就會躍入眼簾。

另一項理由比較講究技巧。記得一九八○年代曾經流行過一種海報,上面有密密麻麻的點嗎?如果太用力看,就只會看到一堆的點。但若把海報掛到牆上,眼睛放鬆,景物就出現了:恐龍、風景、蝴蝶——一種稱為「碎形」的視覺遊戲。只要別太用力看,答案就呼之欲出,但眼睛聚焦的瞬間,畫面就消失了。看不到的人會很氣惱,看到的人則得意洋洋。

四葉草亦復如此。要是太用力,就只看得見草地,得悄悄進入慵懶的夏日心態,將手隨意拂過厚厚的草皮,讓酢漿草一根一根露出,好好觀賞只有三片葉子的它們,欣賞它們對稱的形態。常見的事物也很美。只要耐心欣賞,四葉草便會自動出現在你眼前,就是這樣。

小學三年級那天,我一頭鑽進酢漿草草地,雙手快速地拂過草皮表面,眼神放輕柔,尋找形狀特殊的葉子。沒多久,就找到了一棵四葉草。我記得自己以勝利之姿高舉那株四葉草,還有同學們臉上驚奇的表情。我不記得當天贏得什麼獎品,而我真正的獎賞是透過尋找四葉草的單純行為,開啟通往終身喜悅的途徑——仔細觀察大自然。


Chance Encounters

When I was in Grade 3 we had a scavenger hunt at school. We gathered up chalk, pencils, stones and poorly hidden trinkets, rapidly filling our checklists. It was a very close race. I was out of breath when I reached the clover patch in search of the last, most hard-to-find item: a four-leaf clover.

I was pretty sure I was going to win. I had a trump card. The thing is, I have been able to find four-leaf clovers for as long as I can remember. I just see them.

I spent my childhood collecting and pressing four-leaf clovers into books. I started with bigleather-bound books: Joyce’s Ulysses, the complete works of Shakespeare, my great-grandmother’s copy of Les Misérables. I usually hid only one or two clovers in each book – I wanted them to be a happy surprise, not an expect­ation. When I ran out of romantically bound volumes, I began to slip my treasures into anything I could find: well-thumbed speculative fiction paperbacks, cookbooks. The same is true in my house today. Shake a book and a papery treasure just might fall into your hand.

A few years ago, while travelling in Canada, my husband and I pulled off the road for a picnic. The ground was thick with clover. Some shoots had four, five or even six leaves. I lined them up on the picnic table to admire as my husband, having never yet found one four-leaf clover, looked on in awe. To me, it felt so simple. The differences in their shape popped out, breaking the pretty pattern of the conventional clovers with their three perfect leaves. 

Last summer, while waiting for an airport shuttle in Germany, I found a tiny four-leaf clover on a roundabout and tucked it into my passport. On the way home, my husband and I were upgraded to business class. Friends attributed our good luck to the clover. I think it’s more likely that we were upgraded because we suffered a flight cancellation that left us stranded in two cities and a kind customer service representative took pity on us.

There is widespread disagreement about whether the luck lies in the finding or in the possession of a clover. Some people believe that the luck is lost if the four-leaf clover is even shown to someone else, while others believe the luck doubles if it is given away.

 I believe that positivity is compounded by sharing. I feel lucky to find the clovers with such regularity, but I don’t really think they influence my luck or my life in a tangible way any more than it does to share anything a little special – that momentary closeness between you and another as you both lean in to wonder at a rare find.

What is luck, anyway? Does it mean you can’t take credit for the things that happen to you? Should I have kept all the clovers I found instead of giving them away?

I believe there is casual magic in everyday acts. I think it’s lucky simply to know what it is to seek out and love a genetically deformed clover – to know how to treasure difference.

What is it about four-leaf clovers that fills us with so much wonder? It’s not just that they’re rare. I find them all the time, but I’m still compelled to look for them. Every time I see a patch of clover I’m drawn towards it – the tug of possibility. I feel a compulsion to search that cannot be satisfied until I hold a four-leaf clover in my hands. It’s a sort of mania.

And how rare are they, anyway? I had always thought that, being a simple genetic anomaly, four-leaf clovers would be fairly common. Think about how many mutations are found in nature. I have since learned that one in 10,000 clovers has four leaves. It could be the result of a recessive gene, a somatic mutation, or the influence of the environment. It could be any combination of these influences, but isn’t this where science meets magic?

And even though I find them all the time, I’m not actually exceptional in this skill. The Guinness Book of World Records-holder, Edward Martin Sr from Alaska, took the record in 2007 for finding 111,060 four-leaf clovers. 

It’s the finding I love, not the collecting. I’m happy to give them away. I offer them to mothers in parks, who show them to their wide-eyed kids. I gave one to the shopkeeper at my corner store, where it’s still hanging above the register. I hand them to friends, who slip them between the business cards in their wallets for safekeeping.

People ask how I do it. The answer is that I love clover: the sweet smell, the common variant with its cute trio of leaves, so I spend more time looking at them than most people. I expect that’s the first reason why I find so many. I have developed a habit of gently dragging my fingers or toes across a patch, momentarily separating the individuals, which then brings irregularities to the fore. I think focus is a big part in finding them – not a hardening but a
softening of focus. I allow my eyes to relax and the irregular shapes pop out.

The other reason is artful. Do you remember those posters in the 1980s that were made up of thick dots? If you looked too hard, all you’d see was the pattern. But if you hung them on your wall and let your eyes relax, scenes would appear: dinosaurs, landscapes, butterflies – fractals, a trick of the eye. So long as you didn’t try too hard to see, the solution would be clear, but the instant you focused your eyes, the image would vanish. It was infuriating to those who couldn’t see and triumphant for those who could.

It’s the same with four-leaf clovers. If you try too hard, you only see the patch. Slip into a lazy, summer state of mind. Casually drift your hand across a thick patch, letting the clover reveal themselves one by one. Appreciate those that have only three leaves. Admire their symmetry. Common things are beautiful, too. And out of patient appreciation, a four-leaf clover may show itself to you, just like that.

That day in Grade 3, I dived into the clover patch, skimming the surface with my hands, softening my eyes to look for irregularities. It only took moments to find a four-leaf clover. I remember lifting that clover up in triumph and the look of wonder on my classmates’ faces. I don’t remember what I won that day, my real prize was the gateway that simple act of looking for clover opened up for me – a lifetime of joy derived from looking closely at nature. 

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