Mysteries in plain sight


Take the Black Swallowtail butterfly, or any butterfly for that matter; take any flower, leaf, bit of moss; any eye, nostril or ear; but in this case it’s a Black Swallowtail butterfly that snagged me. I managed to get a photo of it, then enlarged it so I could look way into the exquisite world of its wings: black with accents of blue, yellow, white. And that singing jot of orange! Who designed that? And why?

Any given ordinary day offers mysteries in plain sight if we can but look between blinks.

The necessary art of noticing

It has been a year. All over the world it has been a year, or longer.

When have we ever been so bound together and yet so separated?

I realized a year ago that I needed to journal my experience of this pandemic. I had several blank books of varying number of pages. I rejected the 35-page one—no way it would be long enough. So, the 70-page or the 110-page book? 110 pages, at a page per day, was an intimidating commitment; on the other hand, I was pretty sure this pandemic would not be over in 110 days. I began.

I am now on the fourth 110-page journal.

Each day I’ve recorded some item of Covid-news from the media, or from my life, or the lives of my family and friends.

Meanwhile, I go for long walks. I’m fortunate to live where I can take daily walks uphill and downhill with my dog, through woods and meadows. I often sit for extended periods in the woods to watch and listen. I began to carry binoculars, because it turns out that if I have them I use them, and I see more—I’ve seen species of birds I didn’t even know live here. I’ve also carried a hand lens to look into the complex worlds of mosses and lichens. I began to take photos and make sketches of various flowers, birds, animals, insects, mushrooms, identifying as many as I could. Then daily I began to make a little colored pencil drawing of one of them in my Covid journal, along with entries about unemployment and vaccine research and loneliness and deaths. The journal, which could have become a grim obsession, became an impetus to pay attention. It has helped to keep me grounded—this worldwide phenomenon is going on, and all the while the natural world goes on in its infinite variety, in its thousands and millions of years.

It has been a year—a year that will be a dividing point in world history. Yet it is also a year among millions of years. And it has been a year in which I have locked down into opening to the art of noticing.

Night on the Great River

Steering my little boat towards a misty islet,
I watch the sun descend while my sorrows grow:
In the vast night the sky hangs lower than the treetops,
But in the blue lake the moon is coming close.

Meng Hao-jan (c. 689-740)
(translated by William Carlos Williams)

Smoke

It’s a foul and fearsome thing, this thick choking residue of raging wildfires that are far enough away, but far too close. They have not burned my home, but they have burned or are burning the homes of others, right now.

A neighbor mused…”It’s creepy to step outside and smell it. Have it sting your eyes. Smoke-essense of trees. Ferns. Hazelnut orchards. Barns. Houses. Cars. Birds. Bears. And others.”

May I be respectful as I inhale. And exhale.