I spy with my little eye…

I just discovered an unexpected skill -others may have it too, but I wandered into mine quite accidently on a heavily wooded trail that flirts with the ocean near Cape Roger Curtis on Bowen Island. It’s a beautiful and sometimes complex route along the shore and over a few cliffs; I walk it every month or so when the spirit or the weather commands me. Despite the often wild visage of the pounding waves against the bare glistening cheeks of the rocky outcrops, it’s too familiar for me to be as amazed by it as I might be by similar cliffs in New Zealand, say, or a rugged coastline in Nova Scotia.  

One of the reasons I love to travel, I think, is to be amazed, and startled by the grandeur of something new. Although I will often compare it with things I’ve seen at home, there’s still something compelling about the foreignness of the location: the fact that I’m not at home. That seems to be an important component of the awe.

Perhaps it’s reverence, or at least the unfamiliarity of the surroundings that tickles my muse, and I find I’m never so happy as when I pull over on the road, for example, or sit on a stump of a tree overlooking a magnificent valley, or a raging ocean, to jot down my thoughts.

But I missed that during the Covid years; I felt cocooned in the soft, but all too well known shell of familiar things -beautiful, but hardly surprising. I longed for strange and exotic sights that would make me gasp with delight, and wonder what would cause a barely visible trail to spiral around a New Zealand hill, say; or, why a hat was suspended on branch halfway down a sheer rocky cliff in Tasmania. Questions, as much as answers made me reach for my notebook, or jot things down in my phone to remind me of the thought.

Although I don’t carry a notebook on my rambles here at home, I suppose there’s always my phone. And yet, curious as I am about things I see here, their oft-seen grandeur seldom seems to rise to the level of needing to jot them down; the waves may be magnificent and unusually fierce, but except for the way the sun glints off the cliffs, or the way a tree has fallen into the arms of its friends, it is seldom as… well, alien as it seems in far-off lands.

I was lamenting this lack of uniqueness on that hike around Cape Roger Curtis, when it occurred to me that if I’d seen the very same shore I was looking at, but in Nova Scotia, for example, I would have been thrilled. So I tried something I used to do when I was a child: tried to forget where I was, and see things as if I’d never been there before. I don’t know if it is something you have to learn, and maybe practice, but the change in my appreciation suddenly transformed it into what I can only describe as wonder.

I have to admit that, at my age, it felt a bit worrying to pretend I didn’t really know where I was -sort of like practicing what might happen with Alzheimer’s I suppose. But because I vaguely recognized it as something I used to do when I was younger -you know, like having someone spin me round and round  on the playground until I got dizzy- I rationalized that it was a gift, rather than a preview of life to come.

The revelation, was astounding, and when I realized I could easily phase-change at will -that I wasn’t committed to staying a stranger in a strange land- I tried it out a few more times in different locations. What I saw each time amazed me: it was just like travelling to a foreign place, only at will. It was not a one-way ticket.

It helped each time to pick a particular country I’d enjoyed -and then pretend I was walking through my favorite spots. New Zealand springs to mind, although the trees were probably different, and so were the beaches, but with a little poetic licence, I was swept away with what I saw.

I’ve always been impressed with the abundance of ferns in NZ -the silver fern, for example, is even the symbol of New Zealand’s national identity; there seem to be ferns everywhere -or Cycads (the Macrozamia variety look much like ferns). But, a short walk through the woods in my own coastal Pacific Northwest with its fuzzy blanket of ferns, could easily substitute for a trip to many of the woodlands in Aotearoa (the indigenous Māori name for the New Zealand’s north island: often translated as ‘the land of the long white cloud’).

I tried the same trick with my mind as I walked around a relatively new trail around Grafton Lake on Bowen. It is a tarn surrounded by a forest, and from its north shore, if you peek through the trees, you could be forgiven for thinking you are in Fiordland on the bottom tip of the South Island of NZ. Okay, it takes a little imagination, but that’s where I’m claiming my little dissociative trick comes in. It allowed me to reclaim the lake, and transport me to somewhere else entirely. It actually looked different to me, more beautiful if that’s possible.

For some reason -perhaps driven by my new-found powers of phase-changing- the trick reminded me of the poem To a Louse, by Robert Burns: the last verse starts with ‘O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as others see us!’ It encapsulates the idea (at least for me, I suppose) that there are different ways of seeing ourselves, or the things around us. It’s a gift to be able to appreciate anew those things which, although we know them so well, we walk right by, missing the novelty and the uniqueness that would once have captivated us.

But it’s not a trick -not really; it’s looking at it again with the fresh, unblinking eyes of a tourist who happens upon it for the first time. It’s just a gift, I hope, not a prelude…


1 thought on “I spy with my little eye…

  1. The gift of seeing things ‘as if for the first time’. Wonderful!


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