Life With Horace

poetry & essays

Indian Pipes at Rhododendron State Park 2011


learning to see

There is a place that draws my glances on the way into town.

A garden running along the road for two hundred yards or so, grass dotted with sumac, small trees, wildflowers and bird houses, dozens of hand made tin roofed bird houses. Simple, mostly unpainted wooden structures on poles, obviously one person’s brainchild and handiwork.

This morning a bright red car in front of the house caught my eye, and then a small boy of ten or so, mowing the grass around the first bird house. Looking up, really looking. His face under the brim of his baseball cap full of wonder as he took in the faded paint, the entry holes, the bits of grass and droppings.

Who taught that child to look so intently, I wondered. Was it his nature, and someone had nurtured it? Or simply let him be?

I feel very fortunate to have had some wonderful guides in my own journey.

My next to last year at school in England included a Biology Field Course that forever changed what I take in from a car or bus or train. It taught me to notice, pay attention and to link sometimes disparate sightings together. In the coach that took us out for the day to a bog, forest or open hillside and back, we were encouraged to keep track of what we could see of the natural world as we sped by. A blur taking shape in an instant’s focus.

A chance remark by an artist friend a few years ago about seeing light a certain way got me thinking. Seeing the light? What did that mean? Eventually the answers led to awareness of backlighting and shadows and stray rays. I honestly hadn’t thought about light before, at least not so specifically.

Hands down the most powerful lessons I had in how to see happened by example, gentle explanation, and repetition in walks with my Uncle Bruce over the years. He was a constant observer of plants, light, images, and animal happenings in the natural world. I began to remember plant names, look for the color of the setting sun against the rough bark of a Tupelo tree, discover migrant Indian Pipes in late summer, see what was new in familiar places.

Now I carry his awareness into every part of my life, and am thrilled to see his open eyes and curiosity live on in my children and theirs. I’m also positive he’d have noticed that upturned face too.