Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hide and Seek

Do you remember those Hidden Pictures pages in the Highlights magazine of our youth, where the artist hid real objects amid a detailed scene of something else? When you first looked at the picture, all you would see was the subject matter portrayed, but the more you looked, the more the hidden objects became evident. This morning's walk was something like that. Today I decided it was time to start carrying my binoculars again, after a winter of leaving them at home, and it was the close up views of what first appeared empty that revealed the surprises I would have otherwise missed.

I don't know when I have last seen so many song sparrows, perhaps 200 or more in a 2 mile walk. Apparently they are migrating, returning to their breeding grounds and these are good days to see them.... except that to see them, one has to pay close attention. Without stopping to look carefully, it is easy to mistake the small, brown sparrows for dry leaves or stalks of grass moving in the wind. They blend so perfectly into the colors of the muddy stream bank, muddy farm fields and muddy ground beneath the brownish grasses and goldenrod stalks that it is very easy to miss them. Once the secrets of their camouflage are uncovered, however, and you become accustomed to their movements, you may find them everywhere. Watching and solving the puzzles of the natural world is part of the real fun I find in being out and walking.

The wet meadow also hid its share of lurking mysteries. What first appeared to be a forlorn and empty looking stretch of dried grasses and barren multiflora rose bushes soon revealed life going about its business in every direction. The grass clumps hid Canada geese thinking about nesting sites. The multiflora rose held numerous mockingbirds and cardinals, silently foraging amongst its berries and Carolina wrens, less silently, searching for insects. My favorite surprise was in the middle of a cow path that, right now, is more like a canal as it carries water from the melting snow down a gentle grade towards the creek. I would have easily said, just looking with my eyes, that there was nothing in that water, but once again I would have been wrong. Amid the seven mallards, squabbling and splashing in the puddle, was one bright male wood duck, standing out like a multi-colored jewel set in the still-drab winter setting. What a treasure, revealed just by taking the time to look! How easy it would have been to have missed him.

While I was walking back towards home, I thought about the fact that so often, if we insist on rushing through life, we miss so much that it has to offer. I don't think it is possible to live a hurried life and an observant life at the same time. I need to remember that. If we want to see what is around us, sometimes all we need to do is to take the time to look. As I was mulling all this over, and thinking about how to express these thoughts on the blog, I happened to glance up and noted, quickly moving away from me, a large raptor, unlike what I usually see around this area. It took me a moment to pull my binoculars up to my eyes and, with a sinking feeling, I realized I was seeing a northern harrier heading over the rooftops and beyond my line of sight. I hurried to get a better look but it was as if the sky, itself, had swallowed him up.

I chuckled to myself over such a fitting end to my reflections. Most times, if we want to see, all we need to do is to apply ourselves to observation. But sometimes, serendipity kicks in and all we need to do is be in the right place in the right time, looking in exactly the right direction. I'm sure there is a good illustration in here somewhere but I haven't yet figured out what it is :)

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