Three, they say, is the largest number you’ll never need to count. Your eyes decide the Threeness or Unthreeness of things at a glance, along with Twoness, Oneness, Zeroality. Fourness and everything above is different, except when patterned like the spots on ladybirds and dice. A glance at a grouping of four or more is a guess, an estimate at best.
That’s how you search for a four-leafed clover, for it rarely or never lies flat before your eyes. In a meadow or beside a path when you encounter a patch of untrodden white clover, you scan its triploid leafings for an unruly Unthreeishness—a sense of crowding, a nonconformity to rule, like a typo to a long-experienced proofreader.
You remember where you found it, for the plant that loses count of its leaves once, distracted by some rare conjunction of genes and conditions, will probably do so again. You will look once more in the same place next spring, and find another four-leafed clover, maybe two or three.
I knew a field where four-leafed clovers grew in more than twos and threes. I used to live near Canterbury, on the edge of the shallow, bowl-shaped landscape that always caught more than its share of fine weather. Behind the bluebell woods, above the river and the railway, a fallow field lay dotted with clumps of mutable white clover, and those who knew could gather as they wished. I sent one by post to a boy in Scotland, later my husband, and he still remembers the surprise.
I haven’t been back to that place for nearly two decades, but last night I found it again. I hovered above, swooped down as low as Google Earth would let me, and stared at the rutted chalky soil and patchy green. If I ever visit south-east England again, and tire myself among long-changed streets and additional buildings, I will walk away through the bluebell woods and search for another four-leafed clover.
©2019 by Fiona Jones
Fiona Jones lived in Scotland for 19 years. Before that she spent most of her life in or near Canterbury, England.