A professor that I once had, talked of one of his friends that spent many hours of the days observing roses in bloom, because he wanted to understand what made them beautiful. He would just sit there and stare and try to see. I understand that. Many times I get so into the identification and the uses of plants and animals that they just become means to fill my brain and my stomach with. Utility is good but I think it must be combined with awe, wonder and a keen eye to be made truly useful.
Artist’s that I know have a knack for picking up fine details in faces and hands, watching the way the lines move and somehow amazingly they can interact with those lines, they can know them enough to repeat them in detailed and interesting ways and not only that but they can also give it all some greater meaning. Much of this perception I think is born into everyone, except some take the time to use it while others have other agendas; either that, or they are trained away from it at an early age, as if seeing isn’t enough in life.
We use to play a pretty well known game with our kids where we would stack objects on the floor, give them some time and have them observe what the objects were and how they were arranged. Then we would cover the objects with a blanket and have them describe them without looking under the blanket. The goal was to get them to intentionally observe, so that when they get our age, they could observe even when they didn’t intend to. We’ve also encouraged them in the past to draw, to see lines, and to of course explore outside.
I remember reading about the famous naturalist John Burroughs excavating an animal den, because he was curious just how they kept their home. Not that I encourage wanton destruction of animal habitat, but I think that many times, the environmentally-minded sorts of us, think that staying on the trail with our hands in our pockets might be the best means to take when exploring outside.
Our children teach a better way. They are not so delicate, and they often times want to see just to see, budding artists all of them, and scientists too, (also hunters and fishers and foragers) dissecting and tasting and discerning. My daughter stuck a poisonous rhododendron leaf in her mouth today and wanted me to stick one in mine too. Of course I encouraged her not to eat it, and pointed her to the violets and plantain as more healthier and safer options. She also wanted to pick the stinging nettle, just to show me and I guided her away from that to less painful options. But I am aware daily that a parent has to be mindful of not squashing this innate curiosity, if they ever want their children to know how to see.
I’ve been trying to teach myself how to see too, trying to look at natural objects in new ways. I’ve not been much of a picture taker in my life, but just by doing this exercise I now see that the camera can help a person slow down and master the skill of observation. Of course there are also other senses that I plan on talking about later, but here a few things that I learned today, upon observation: