What Do You Look At But Don’t See?


We are staying at a cabin in Central Oregon, amongst the Ponderosa Pines and beside a fast-running creek, that joins the Metolius River.  The smell of pine is so pervasive I feel intoxicated and slightly giddy as I watch the water. 

I’m pretending that I need  to memorize the sights, sounds, and smells.  It is part of my practice to be present in the moment.

On our drive to this oasis in the trees, I was awed by the miles of sage brush, the soft colors of purple, gray, and slate blue across the high desert.  The sharp white of the snow covered Three Sisters seemed like an assault on my eyes compared to the hues of the plateau we crossed.

I’m someone who craves a view.  Growing up we lived across the street from a small neighborhood park.  I have pictures of me as a toddler, face pressed against the glass, staring out the window to the expanse across the street.  As an adult, I have been drawn to locations with a view.

Gazing out the window while I journaled this morning, I watched the shifting light through the trees.  I was reminded of another time, another location, another view.  A few years ago, we lived in the foothills of the Cascades, outside of Seattle.  Our house was surrounded by trees.

Initially I didn’t like looking out the windows because all I could see were trees.  There was no expansive view, no opportunity to watch the sky change colors throughout the day.  And there was what seemed to be a grove of dead trees in a swampy area across the road. 

I soon learned to look for the shifts and drifts of light through the trees.  In the late afternoon, the alders and pines seemed to come alive with shades of green, gray, and brown.  The  golden sunlight appeared to have substance as if I could go out with a bucket and scoop up as much as I could carry.

One day I noticed a gigantic stump out the kitchen window. (I know, as if it suddenly walked up and planted itself out there.)  It was a relic of a tree that must have broken off in a wind storm. 

It had jagged edges that had been smoothed as if sanded by years of wind and rain.   Moss further softened the crags and seemed to change color with the shifting light, from a light chartreuse to meadow green, to emerald.

I never got tired of looking at that stump.  It was always the same, yet different each day.  There was a huckleberry bush growing beside it. It was more of a sprig than a bush.  Its small leaves waving in the breeze looked like confetti that had been tossed by a forest fairy and remained magically suspended.

In the spring rain, the huckleberry leaves sparkled in the filtered light.  During the fog of winter, the darkness deadened the colors of the stump, disguising its shape.  It was like a special piece of Mother Nature’s art that had been placed there just for me.  It was there every day, the same, yet never the same.

That stump reminded me the importance of looking at what is there, in front of me and really seeing it.  I gave up craving an expansive view and would spend my gazing time watching the light change the shape and color of that stump.

What is in your life (or just outside your window) that you don’t really notice?  Do you spend time thinking about what you’d rather see, what’s not there, or that you don’t like what is there?  Or do you look closely at and appreciate what is in front of you?  What don’t you really see each day?  A building?  A tree?  A sidewalk?  A person?

Take a few minutes each day to really look at what is outside your window.  Or better yet, go outside and get a better view.