Seeing What’s Around Us
By George Smith
Reprinted from the July 22, 2009 Kennebec Journal.
Sometimes it takes more than open eyes to see everything around you.
The black mask covered his face when I glanced his way after hearing him speak. If he expected the mask was sufficient to prevent him from being seen and recognized, he should have paid more attention to the rest of his wardrobe.
From the neck down, he was covered in bright yellow.
I boldly stepped closer, 10 feet, 8 feet, 5 feet, and he appeared unalarmed, continuing to speak to me in a low, gutteral “tchcuk.”
The black mask, white-eyebrow, and yellow belly allowed me to easily identify him as a warbler, the Common Yellowthroat. There’s nothing common about this beautiful bird.
Seeing him in the streamside bush as I waded along in search of brook trout was one of the moments when you are certain there is a God. There’s no other explanation for the perfection and beauty of this tiny bird.
I watched him flit around in the bushes for 10 amazing minutes, thankful that – only recently – I’d become an avid birder – taking the time to see what’s around me. All those years and I’d never noticed all these colorful birds.
Fifteen minutes later, I cast a small fly – a nymph – into a bend pool and saw the quick flash of a trout darting from it’s hiding place to grab the fly.
Quickly bringing him to hand, a sleek 7-inches adorned with red and blue spots and a gorgeous yellow belly, it was another God moment. If He’d only created one fish, the brook trout would have been it. Absolute perfection.
The trout in Sourdahunk Stream are very dark on top to match their habitat. I didn’t used to notice, too busy casting and catching. Now I really study each individual fish, unique in its own way.
Sometimes after he’s released, a fish will fin there in the water beside my foot, unaware that he’s free. Then the dark tail flips and he vanishes. What doesn’t vanish is the smile on my face.
I gaze at Mount Katahdin covered by clouds, at the rapids ahead, into the trees along the shore, drinking it all in. I’m surrounded by beauty and want to see it all.
Three years ago Linda and I enjoyed a “mushroom walk” with Mount Vernon’s Barbara Skapa. Boy, did that open my eyes!
The diversity and quantity of mushrooms seen in a couple of hours, all within two miles of our home, was astonishing. We decided to focus on the tastiest (of course!) and learned to recognize, with confidence, chanterelles.
From late June to mid-August, our eyes focus on the ground, searching for those yellow treats. Last night Lin sautéed two dozen in butter for a delicious pre-dinner appetizer. Wow.
A few weeks ago a lovely lady named Carolyn called. She and her husband Ralph shared a European trip with Linda and me 30 years ago, arranged by the University of Maine Alumni Association. It was our honeymoon.
Carolyn had been looking at an old album of the trip and saw a photo of Linda and me and decided to track us down. We hadn’t heard from her in 30 years, yet she remembered so many details about that trip and us.
Here’s a lady who sees everything around her, I thought to myself.
The conversation with Carolyn was a very pleasant surprise, but made me wish I’d been more observant 30 years ago. She sure remembered a lot more than I did!
There was a time when I only saw what I wanted to see or had to see. As a sportsman, I’ve always thought I saw more than most – but until Linda and I started birding I was missing a lot.
Kids don’t miss much.
The fishing for smallmouth bass in mid-June on a remote Kennebec County pond was slowing so my 5-year old grandson Addison turned his attention elsewhere and pulled up a water lily pad to discover – and show Grampy – frog’s eggs underneath the pad. I’d never noticed them before.
When is it we lose that wonderful ability to see and sense all that surrounds us? When do we become too self-absorbed and busy to really notice what goes on around us?
Wait. As I write this column, I hear a Northern Parula warbler outside our camp window. Now, I’m even hearing all that surrounds me!
And it makes life so much richer.
Amazing things surround us. May you see and hear them all.