Sep 29 2011

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The Strangeness of Ordinary Things

Posted at 8:35 am under Blog Post

A butterfly landed on a nearby tree branch the other day so I took a moment to look at it – I mean really look at it. First I snapped a picture, of course. Then I lowered my camera to stand eyeball-to-eyeball with the creature. Close enough to see its face, I was shocked by the strangeness of it. Surely butterflies are from another planet. Like most insects, they seem alien.

There are the butterflies, grasshoppers and beetles of our minds, then there are the real things. Upon close inspection, nearly all insects have features only an entomologist could love. But the strangeness of ordinary things isn’t limited to insects. Many flowering plants look strange, as do most mushrooms. Same goes for nearly everything that washes up on the beach. Many birds, such as blue heron or a pileated woodpecker, look strange. Toads are reminiscent of another era. A newt in the bright orange stage of its life seems out of place.  Creeping vines are creepy.  Most furry animals seem familiar, but how can one explain a porcupine or a skunk? Bats are deliberately strange, it seems. Same goes for spiders. And lets not even talk about fish! The more one looks, the more all living things look strange. But it doesn’t stop there. The clouds right before or after a great storm swirl about in unusual ways, and floodwaters are menacingly brown. Even something stationary like a chunk of pure white quartz can seem out of place. All nature is foreign to us, it seems. Why? Because we so rarely see it.

We live busy lives. The pace of civilization has quickened during the last few decades. Our electronic devices hasten the process. A minute seems like forever when we’re waiting for something to download to our computers. A couple seconds can be the difference between life and death when we’re on the highway. There is no time, it seems, to just stop and look at anything. The world flashes by in an endless succession of images, much like the constantly changing television screen. There isn’t time enough to process it all.

When I stop hiking and just hang out in deep woods for a day or two, I start noticing things. “What did you do?” people often ask me when I return home from such an outing. I just shrug my shoulders. How much time can slip away while a man and a butterfly are staring at each other? Hard to say. I’ve never measured it. But this much I know: the more I look, the more I see the strangeness of ordinary things. Even the rising sun is alien to me now.


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