Friday, November 22, 2013

LOOKIN’ WHERE THEY AIN’T – The Wisdom of Circuitous Seeing

The other day, as I waited for my take-out order in a busy Asian restaurant, there was a deafening crash. Someone in the kitchen must have dropped a stack of large pots and pans onto the hard tiled floor.

The sound came from my right. Everyone around me—everyone in the whole place, I should think—turned toward it. For some reason my first reaction was to turn the other way, to my left, and watch the reaction of a woman standing nearby.

This observation has given me pause. First of all, I don’t remember jumping or even feeling very alarmed. Does this mean there’s something wrong with my fight-or-flight instinct? And why was my rote response to check out what others were doing instead of doing something myself?

    I get animals to come to me not by reaching 
    for them, but by turning away…

As with most ponderings of this sort, I’ll probably never have the complete answer, but here’s what I’m thinking:

I’ve long felt I have a gift for noticing things. People I’ve walked with in the woods seem to marvel at my pointing out stuff they’d just walked right past without seeing. In this era of banal sensory distraction and overload, this is the gift I’ve dedicated much of my time to sharing by way of my writing and blogging.

One way I counsel my followers to be more aware is by learning to sense more creatively. That means watching not just the flock of starlings, not just the school of sardines, but picking out one individual and seeing what it might do. It means getting out early or maybe staying late, times when Nature’s less likely to be introverted. It means getting down low to look at something most people see only from above—or vice versa.

And one of my favorite tips for the uninitiated: Look where others aren’t looking. You see, nothing makes an observer more undetectable to an observed than distraction. The young doe riveted on the sounds and smells of a rustling woodchuck (or the well-placed toss of a stick) is far less likely to notice the measured movements of me and my camera.

I use this oblique approach to small wonders all the time. When I take pictures of people, I often get the most candid, spontaneous results when I wait until another photographer’s stealing everyone’s attention for a formal shot, and then snap mine just before or just after hers. If I want to connect with a skittish pet, I get them to come to me not by reaching for them or cooing, but by turning away, lowering myself and being still.

    This kind of sensing is more an attitude than 
    an action, more an instinct than a discipline.

Apparently my discipline of distraction works, even on me. Haven’t you ever struggled to remember something, only to find that the harder you try the less likely you will? That only when you let go and start thinking of something else does the elusive memory come to you? It’s those last three words that are most telling; you’ll notice I said “come to you,” not “be found.” There’s a big difference.

This kind of sensing is more an attitude than an action, more an instinct than a discipline. To many, especially in our American culture of linear thinking and direct, literal connections, it may seem counter-intuitive, but it can be learned…and it can be taught.

It’s a skill we’d do well to teach to a new generation of nature-starved kids and grandkids (as well as the adult guides in their lives).

If you want to see unusual things, see in unusual ways.
Photograph a group posing for someone else.
As the quarterback drops back, watch what the center does.
Turn away from setting sun for a glimpse of rising moon.

FROM UNDER THE WILD GINGER – A Simple Guide to the Wisdom of Wonder


Carol O'Casey said...

Once again, Jeffrey, you've reminded us to pay attention and shown us how. Beautiful. Also, I love the phrase "introverted" nature. Many thanks.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Carol. Among the many blessings I celebrate this time of year, our connection through blogging. Keep up the good work!

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