Confessions of a Pareidoliac

Woodfin Whale breaching in breakers off Goose Creek Beach
Woodfin Whale breaching in breakers off Goose Creek Beach

I have never seen the image of Ringo Starr in a pancake. But I do often see patterns in leaves against the sky and I hear laughter and sometimes complete sentences in the chatter and babble of the creek.

I guess that makes me a pareidoliac–one who is given to perceiving vague or random stimuli of eye or ear, and in them, finding significance.

If you’ve ever seen Dumbo in a towering cumulus cloud, or the Michelin Man, then you qualify. If you make a point to look for such things, you are a poet, a romantic, or have gone off your medications. (I think my personal favorite is Mother Teresa in a cinnamon bun.)

IMG_2045woodfin300I fall into the latter category. I think intentional whimsy is a healthy thing–a way transforming the minds wandering into wondering. From wonder, comes delight, celebration and honor of the fantastical world we live in. And wisdom, some say.

Pattern recognition is a way of making sense from the chaos.

There is so much of chaos these days that a little shape-finding seems an innocuous-enough way to gain a little traction, to create a little order to stand against the disorders of our age.

So there you have it: the story of the Woodfin Whale, leaping joyfully in the surf of an imagined wave at Goose Creek Beach.

NOTE: all the more reason to bring this image home–I am soon going to have to take the chainsaw to the huge broken pine that fell across the New Road last winter, since I can’t get my truck past it to fetch wood from the Fortress of Solitude. I will miss the Woodfin Whale then; but probably hear it cavorting in the waves, even so, when we take the path that crosses the creek.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Further confession of the almost-obvious: I pasted the “whale” on top of a found image of ocean waves. A vast swath of the internet is inherently so many truths, photo-shopped. For our diversion and obfuscation–so not pointless.

  2. You tricked me good! I thought your New Road whale and the one in the creek looked the same, but . . . My husband and I photograph trees frequently that look like animals. It’s always fun to do.