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.