This Is Why I Collect Four-Leaf Clovers (It’s Not for Luck)

One woman's knack for finding good fortune.

closeup four leaf clovers in handDavid P. Leonard/Courtesy Teva Harrison

When I was in the third grade, we had a scavenger hunt at school. We gathered up chalk, pencils, stones, and poorly hidden tchotchkes, 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 that I was going to win. I had a trump card. The thing is, I have always been able to find four-leaf clovers. I just see them.

I spent my childhood collecting and pressing four-leaf clovers into books at my mother’s house. I started with big cloth- and leather-bound books. Joyce’s Ulysses, the complete works of Shakespeare, my great-grandmother’s copy of Les Misérables. When I ran out of romantically bound volumes, I began to slip my treasures into anything I could find: well-thumbed 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, in Nova Scotia, my husband and I pulled off the road for a picnic. The ground was thick with clover. Some shoots had four, five, even six leaves. I lined them up on the picnic table to admire as my husband, never yet having found one four-leaf clover, looked on with awe. To me, it was simple. The differences in their shapes popped out, breaking the pretty pattern of the conventional clovers with their three perfect leaves. (If you’re searching for fair fortune, you’ll want to memorize these good luck quotes.)

Two summers back, while waiting for an airport shuttle in Munich, I found a tiny four-leaf clover in a traffic circle 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 a flight cancellation left us stranded in two cities on as many continents on subsequent nights and a kind customer service rep took pity on us.

People disagree about whether the luck lies in the finding or in the possession of a clover. Some believe that the luck is lost if the four-leaf clover is even shown to somebody else, while others think the luck doubles if it is given away. I believe that positivity is compounded by sharing. I feel lucky to find the clovers so often, but I don’t think they influence my life any more than it does to share anything a little special—that momentary closeness between you and a friend or a stranger, as you all lean in to wonder at a rare find. (Here are 13 proven ways you can change your luck.)

four leaf clover diaryMatthew Cohen for Reader's Digest

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 that there is casual magic in everyday acts. It’s lucky simply to know what it is to seek out and love a genetically deformed clover—to know how to treasure difference.

Every time I see a patch of clover, 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.

I had always thought that, being a simple genetic anomaly, four-leaf clovers would be fairly common. 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, the influence of the environment, or any combination of the three. But isn’t this where science meets magic?

Though I find clovers all the time, I’m not exceptional in this skill. The Guinness World Records holder, Edward Martin Sr. from Cooper Landing, Alaska, had found 111,060 four-leaf clovers when he took the record in 2007.

It’s the finding I love, not the collecting. I’m happiest to give my “lucky” clovers away. I pass them on to mothers in parks, who show them to their wide-eyed kids. I delivered one to the man at my corner store, where it hangs above the register. Friends slip them between the business cards in their wallets for safekeeping.

People ask how I do it. Well, I love clover: the sweet smell, the common variant with its cute trio of leaves. I look at it more than most people do. I expect that’s the first reason I find so many. I have a habit of dragging my fingers or toes across a patch, momentarily separating the individuals, which brings irregularities into focus. That’s part of finding them: not a hardening of focus, but a softening.

The other reason is artful. Do you remember those posters from the 1980s made up of thick dots? If you looked too hard, all you’d see was the pattern. But if you let your eyes slip out of focus, scenes would appear: dinosaurs, landscapes, butterflies—a trick of the eye.

It’s the same with four-leaf clovers. If you try too hard, you will only ever see the patch. Instead, slip into a lazy, soft-focus, summer state of mind. Drift your hand across a thick patch, letting the clovers reveal themselves. Appreciate the ones that have only three leaves. Common things are beautiful too. And a four-leaf clover may show itself to you. Just like that.

That day in third grade, I dived into the clover patch, skimming the surface with my hands, softening my eyes to look for irregularities. It took only moments for a four-leaf clover to fall into my fingers. Just like that.

Whatever little toy I won that day, my real prize was the gateway that the simple act of looking for clovers opened for me into a lifetime of joy derived from looking closely. The magic of nature coming up as it pleases.

Next, check out these 20 amazing, true stories that will change how you think about luck.

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