Come with me on a ramble —
See? The roses are out,
and here and there,
as yet unseen blooms
hide in the wind-tangled grass.
Come with me on a ramble —
hidden joys await us.
~ Photo by Raymond Stilborn, poem by Beth Stilborn
The first day of spring seems a good day to be talking about rambling. But we’re not rambling aimlessly today, not at all. We’re rambling with our senses alert, our eyes open, our ears attuned to whatever we might hear, our noses ready for the scents of spring, our fingertips eager to touch the kitten-soft sepals of a prairie anemone. (Although it will be a few weeks before the anemones peek out through the prairie grasses, and it will be longer than that before the wild roses are in bloom.)
I’ve posted about taking “Look and Listen” walks before. A book I’ve just finished reading takes Look and Listen walks to the next level (or perhaps fifteen or so levels beyond that.)
It’s On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. In the introductory chapter, she says
“To a surprising extent, time spent going to and fro—walking down the street, traveling to work, heading to the store or a child’s (or one’s own) school—is unremembered. It is forgotten not because nothing of interest happens. It is forgotten because we failed to pay attention to the journey to begin with. On the phone, worrying over dinner, listening to others or to the to-do list replaying in our own heads, we miss the world making itself available to be observed. And we miss the possibility of being surprised by what is hidden in plain sight right in front of us.”
Alexandra Horowitz set out to remedy that, by going on walks with eleven different “experts” — experts at different aspects of paying attention. She learned a great deal about herself, and about her surroundings, in the process.
She walked with her toddler — who drew her attention to Os: “on the circle-pocked grating of a window air-conditioner; in a round call button; in an egg-shaped sidewalk crack…” and to triangles: “He tiptoed along the low wall, hopped down, and clambered up the next. It was in this way that I learned of the triangles. As my son’s route intersected with the sidewalk, the two paths created a long, sharp triangle between them. It was a small step up, and a big step down. Were the triangles friendly? I asked. Yellow? ‘Green. Bubbly,’ he said, solemnly, as I looked at the very nonbubbly, nongreen triangles. I nodded.”
She walked with a geologist and discovered fossils in the limestone of certain New York buildings. She walked with a typographer, and all the variant (and sometimes dissonant) fonts in the lettering of the signs that crowd a New York block came into focus. She walked with a blind woman, and became attuned to listening for sound cues to help her navigate. She walked with her dog, and learned about the countless smells that our noses ignore on a daily basis.
She walked, and was awakened. She also dug more deeply and tried to analyze just how such extraordinary attention comes to be, and how the brain works to encompass so many different ways of being. She’s a cognitive scientist and professor of psychology, which certainly shows in the depth with which she ponders her subject.
She rambled, and was renewed.
I heartily recommend this book. On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz. Published by Scribner, New York, 2013. Here’s a review from USA Today, and the Kirkus review. The edition I read (from the library) was the large print edition (it just happened that way). I love the cover of that edition. It was fascinating to look closely and discover all that was hidden in plain sight.
Go for a ramble! Look! Listen! Reawaken! Be renewed!
If we try to look ahead
into the unknowableness of future,
the sands of time stretch in a vast desert of uncertainty.
But look! At our feet, tiny patches of green and blossom
dot the sands —
small wildflowers of joy for this one moment.
~ Photo and poem by Beth Stilborn
R is for Ramble, Reawaken, Renew, and Roses — lovely, lovely Roses. (In the concrete, I see a 5 and a whale and … What do you see?)