Learning How to See

This nice colony of orchids we discovered in a place along Nameless Creek where we have never seen them before. This was just one of a half dozen clusters in that spot--and perhaps an upside to a warming climate.
This nice colony of orchids we discovered in a place along Nameless Creek where we have never seen them before. This was just one of a half dozen clusters in that spot–and perhaps an upside to a warming climate.

How we use our eyes (and our mind’s eye) is both a physical given and a learned response in the way we take in the light (and wisdom) around us.

Think of something like your first car of a certain model and color. Yours was the first like it that you ever saw. But after you drove off the lot (after investing much time and energy and dollars focused on that particular car) you began seeing others like it everywhere you went. You had trained your mind to SEE in a new way.

My wife went on an outing last weekend while I was away. She was horrified to see others in the group stepping on a cluster of Showy Orchis. To them, this plant did not look any different than all the other nameless growing things on the forested trail. To Ann, it was a well-known, often-sought and highly prized uncommon mountain orchid. Of course she saw it!

Let me seque a bit after reading this trigger article linked below:

Moken children are able to make their pupils smaller and change their lens shape. Seals and dolphins have a similar adaptation.
BBC – FutureThe ‘sea-nomad’ children who see like dolphins 

It turns out that the eye is more adaptable than we might have imagined. Children on remote islands off the coast of Thailand spend much time in the sea. They have learned to adapt their lenses to match the refractory properties of salt water so for them, an under-the-waves view is pretty much the same as on land. Their eyes also do not become irritated from exposure to briny waters.

There is a down-side. The last paragraph in the BBC article states…

“Unfortunately, the children in Gislen’s experiments may be the last of the tribe to possess the ability to see so clearly underwater. “They just don’t spend as much time in the sea anymore,” she says, “so I doubt that any of the children that grow up these days in the tribe have this extraordinary vision.” 

And it made me think that a similar decay is taking place in the vision of too many of our cloistered children. Such small eyes could once could spot a salamander, caterpillar or bit of quartz while romping in their forest hideaway.

But not many dive deep into those places anymore, and their vision becomes blurred. The objects of outdoor interest, of curiosity, of knowledge and wisdom from the living world are quickly becoming invisible.

What we can’t see we won’t value. What we don’t value, we won’t protect.

Are your children or grandchildren in need of an Eye Doctor to address this problem?  There are corrective lenses available.

Children & Nature Network | LEARN | CONNECT | ACT

[su_quote]Where there is no vision, the people perish. –Proverbs 29.18 [/su_quote]


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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. I had fun teaching 7th grade science. I took them onto the playing field and told them to draw 10 different species of plant they found in the patch they sat on. Before that activity, they knew trees, bushes, grass and weeds as the only types of plants. Oh boy.
    On another note, your proverb is painted on the side of our town’s community center. Adds a nice touch.

  2. Another great post Fred. It really stirred up these old mental juices. These eyes learned to see night-crawlers in the very dim edges of a flashlight’s beam. If we were going to have bait to catch fish with, it was a necessary skill. These eyes learned to filter out the thick grass and brush focusing on recognizing a Rabbit’s eye so I might put food on our hungry family’s table. The same could be said for the ability to locate a Squirrel clinging flat up against a tree’s bark or fleeing along leafy branches high in the canopy. Using these eyes, I became an expert marksman with shotgun, long-gun and M-1 Rifle in our Military. Today, all I have to remind me how clearly I saw what I needed to see are my memories, displayed before me in my mind’s eye. Thanks Friend!

  3. Clarence, your mind’s eye is still keen, and that counts for much. Glad you could pick out those concealed creatures even today in perfect hind-sight!