Monday, February 15, 2010

The Obvious, Unseen

My friend Laura (who is currently hosting the blog carnival, I and the Bird (go see!)) recently wrote a lyrical piece about our owling excursion entitled Of owls and seeing, in which she discusses how difficult it can be to spot an owl and how she personally is finding her distance vision (and thus faraway birds) deserting her.

My distance vision deserted me in ninth grade, and I've worn glasses, now contacts, ever since.

But she knows that there are owls (and other birds) out there to be found. A wondrous avifauna worth seeking out and marveling in. Sadly many people are not only not interested in birds, they don't even realize they are out there waiting to be seen. A form of conceptual blindness which diminishes their world. My world was once so constricted as well.


Avoiding (barely) the blizzard that hit the north east coast of the US this past week, I made what has become my annual pilgrimage to the Florida Keys for the Winter Star Party. A 1400+ mile journey one way to stargaze in shorts and t-shirts in February. Combining hobbies I stop each year and bird the greater Everglades region. And I take pictures, photographing birds ...

... beasts ...

... and stars.

This trip I got a jump on two of the three at a gas station in Port St. Lucie, Florida.


As I was leaving the gas station I spotted a pair of sandhill cranes on the side of the road.

I quick snapped a photo with my iPhone as I waited at the stop light. I made a u-turn straightaway and headed back, hoping the birds would still be there. They were. I then rushed to get out my camera gear, buried beneath my astronomy and camping stuff (poor planning!), hoping the birds would not fly. They did not and I was rewarded with images like this one:

But as I watched and photographed the cranes I also noticed that no one else did. That is, no one noticed the rather large birds feeding just feet from the road. None of the passing cars slowed to look. None of the other customers at the busy gas station spied the birds or the curious character photographing them. No children pointed. I saw them because I am always looking, aware that birds (and other interesting things!) can show up anywhere. Most people don't think to look because they're unaware that there are things to look for. They've that conceptual blind spot. For them animals, especially rare animals, occur only in tropical rain forests and African jungles. Faraway places, certainly not gas stations in suburbia.

When I was a kid I watched Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom every Sunday. And I was always bummed that we didn't have and big animals in our back yard, only stupid birds!

I was alone in my enthusiasm and wonder.

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, his eyes are closed." - Albert Einstein, What I Believe, 1930

Perhaps the people of Florida have become so inured to large birds being about (on this trip my road list included herons, egrets, wood storks, ibis, and a fly over roseate spoonbill (and my life armadillos!)) they've become dulled to their presence. But I've found the same unawareness other places as well. On a recent workday lunch outing I pointed out a great blue heron hunting along a stream near my office. A colleague noted that he had never seen one before. Another asked if they were rare in New Jersey. I've a short (~ eight mile) commute and I see them regularly. Why doesn't everyone?


I noted above that I was once unaware of the wonders all around me. I briefly discussed how I started birding in my Portrait blog post. Before becoming aware I knew the birds in my neighborhood to be bluejays, cardinals, robins, and sparrows (every little bird not of the first three was a 'sparrow'). Since becoming aware my world has become a much larger place, with many new co-inhabitants to discover an delight in. (To say nothing of new friends.)

I've since become a world bigafication junkie, studying amongst others, plants, insects, and even snowflakes. My world expanding with each.

I'm sure my friends would tell you I've got my own conceptual blind spots, ("Paging Captain Oblivious"). I suspect we all do. But how many of us realize this? How many know that there is a handicap to overcome?

"What can I tell them? Sealed in their metallic shells like molluscs on wheels, how can I pry the people free? The auto as tin can, the park ranger as opener. Look here, I want to say, for godsake folks get out of them there machines, take off those fucking sunglasses and unpeel both eyeballs, look around; throw away those goddamned idiotic cameras! For chrissake folks what is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?" - Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 1968


It was the bird, specifically a pair of gulls and a little yellow jobbie, that helped make me cognizant of the wider world around me. And birds continue to bring me pleasure as I observe and photograph them, as well as enjoy the company of like minded people. They are out there and easily seen. Won't you go look?


Chesney said...

I love this post, and it applies to anything (not just birds)...I have learned just in the past year or so that if you really open your eyes you are introduced to a whole new world of beauty!

And LOL, Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom was one of my favorites as a little girl as well, every Sunday night at 6:00 everyone knew where to find me! :)

Ron a.k.a. Danudin said...

What a cathartic release for you, and a wonderful way for us to wile away a few minutes and it is populated with some great bird shots to illustrate the lessons you are trying to pass on to the masses. I think you should ease a little at gloating over captures you make that your friends missed though LOL Don't expect toomuch of the great unwashed, they will let you down repeatedly.

top5cats said...

Love the story of your experience. I watched Mutual of Omaha too and wondered if I would ever see any of those wild animals. I see bald eagles on a regular basis on my ride to work and always wonder why no one else does. I guess that photography really teaches you to open your eyes and see things. I just wish I had started "Seeing" earlier in life. These birds you got are wonderful and the one near the car might make people realize that they are right under their noses. When I saw the beast, LOL he took my breath away. You must have been pretty close. That is an amazing picture. I always love your star images. This one is wonderful, Can't wait to see more.

Anonymous said...

Tammy is right seeing can apply to most anything. I especially love your E. Abbey quote. Oh and your photos are killer too :-)

Joy K. said...

I teach 5th grade science. In class, I use a lot of photos that I've taken locally. My kids are AMAZED at the insect and fungus shots. "How do you find all those things?"

I don't know any answer other than "I look for them. When I go into the woods, I go in expecting to find amazing things, so I do. If you walk around expecting to only see tree trunks and grass, that's all you'll find. It's a state of mind."

Jessica said...

You have really hit the nail on the head here. So many of us are so intent on A to B that we miss everything in between. It has to be a conscious effort to notice what's around us that gets us to see again. Kind of sad.