Adventures in Observation

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” –Rachel Carson

Before bed, if I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed, I often turn to the words of the great naturalists. Reading the thoughts and observations of people like Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson allow my mind to calm down and make me feel at ease. Recently, while reading Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, I processed that many observations and reflections happen early in the morning, just as the Earth is waking up.

yard at twilight
my yard at twilight

I consider myself a morning person. I am from a family of early risers. My dad got up every morning at 4:00 to go to work, and my mom helped see him off. I got up a bit later, at 5:30, eager to go to school. Right now, as I start work in the afternoons, I get up without an alarm and its usually when the sun rises. But if there is somewhere I need to be or something to do, regardless of the time, I have no problem getting out of bed (well, unless the three-legged orange purr monster wants to cuddle…) Yet despite my willingness to be up early, I’ve never gotten up early with the specific goal of just observing.

So this past week, I thought I would see the final week of Winter past and welcome Spring by getting up before the sun rose, and just sit outside, observing. And so I did. Each morning, armed with a cup of tea and a notebook, I went out shortly before 7 and sat outside under the persimmon tree.

tea at sunrise

On some days I saw the sky glow from the East, with wispy bits of pulled cotton clouds, always just one shade brighter than the lightening sky. On some days the sky was one big blanket of clouds, keeping the sky the color of the graphite words in my notebook. I listed to a lengthy solo by a lone mockingbird, carried on from its perch in the fig tree. . Do birds sing to express gratitude to the new day, or perhaps broadcast the latest gossip to anyone who would hear? Finches in the plum tree and quince bush carried on in chaos, flittering and chattering in no distinguishing order, only to be silenced for a moment when the blue jay swooped in, approaching in a large scalloped flight. Three houses down, I saw a white egret land in a sycamore, commanding my attention as it appears to step through the air, its wings backwards for balance, to set foot on a branch. I noticed that a lone purple sparaxis stayed open, despite its family of white blooms clasped shut until the sun awoke them, and I wonder if perhaps its dark color makes it less sensitive to light change?

early sunrise

sunrise behind housesunrise

I also thought about observing in general. The definition of observation “is the act of careful watching and listening; the activity of paying close attention to someone or something in order to get information”. I think that the more we observe something, the more we are connected to it, and the more likely we will appreciate it. If one knows that a bird nests in a tree, one is likely to think twice about cutting it down. If one experiences joy and recognizes the feeling of peace from walking on a beach, its unlikely one will leave their trash laying on the sand.

a lone purple sparaxis, open among a field of closed
a lone purple sparaxis, open among a field of closed

Our society is not great on slowing down and observing. We rush through our days with urgency. Even those lucky enough to spend time outside, myself included, are unlikely to still our mind and only look. My theory is that if we all stopped to observe our natural surroundings more often, with careful detail, we would have a healthy and more appreciative relationship with the Earth. We could all take a lesson from a cat, who happily sit under a bush or in the grass, and just watch.

What do you think? Do you find much time to just observe?

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5 thoughts on “Adventures in Observation

  1. I find that making time to just observe or be in a place is always rewarded. I loved reading this post so much.

  2. Beautiful post Melissa! And so true. I need to make more of an effort to take my coffee outside in the mornings…hmmm maybe a springtime resolution!

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