The Magic of a Four-Leaf Clover

What’s the re­la­tion­ship be­tween for­tune and a four-leaf clover?

Reader's Digest Asia Pacific - - Front Page - BY TEVA HAR­RI­SON FROM THE WAL­RUS

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 chi ld­hood col­lect­ing and press­ing four- leaf clovers into books. I started with big leather-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. Fr iends at t r ibuted our good luck to the clover. I think it’s more l ikely that we were up­graded be­cause we suf fered a f l ight 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 f in­d­ing 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 bel ieve that posit iv it y 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 fourleaf clovers that fills us with so much won­der? It’s not just that they’re rare. I f ind them al l 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 inf lu­ences, 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 tr y 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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