Sunday, August 23, 2015

Once you see them

There is a principle I have noticed in the natural world. There is a lot we don't see or notice until it's named, pointed out to us, or, most of all, until we learn the trick of seeing it. Then it's everywhere. Then it's readily available for our notice.

Because of an interest in Monarch Butterflies, spurred by my library's grow and release display in the kid's room, I took the short amount of attention it required to get clear on which plant, exactly, is the milkweed they love. As soon as I knew the plant it turned out milkweed is everywhere. It's like a weed, because, I guess, it's a weed. I have found, to my surprise, that our yard is swimming in it. It used to be part of our unkempt collection of wildly overgrown weeds, but now I know. Those aren't weeds. That's our native butterfly habitat. In a blink of knowledge we go from neighborhood lawn menaces to the best citizens on the block.

Up at our lake house I have had a not dissimilar experience of discovery with agates. After endless, fruitless searching through the millions of small stones on the shore of Lake Superior I started rooting around in the cold tide line being churned up by the waves. There I found my first agate, and knowing what and how I was looking for, I found more, although none of them yet, I admit, so fancy and wonderful as the ones they sell for two dollars in an antique store in Grand Marais.

Wonderfully this revelation happened a third time when we were hiking in the woods a couple miles from here. I was admiring the mushrooms and the dense fairy copses. I was marveling at the beautiful deep creek-bed cutting down in the red stone, the gnarled roots of pines, and the subtly strange sounds of birds, when suddenly it occurred to me that I was seeing a lot of small trees that looked peculiar. The tree trunks were the right color, brown, but, oddly, they seemed furry. I looked up and the strange shaped branch above me moved against, rather than with, the wind.

These weren't trees, these were moose legs. That big branch was a moose antler! I wasn't walking through a forest of trees so much as I was walking through a forest of mooses.

Up until a couple days ago I would have been fairly convinced that pretty much all the moose were gone from up here in the Minnesota Northwoods, but now that I've got their silhouette down I can tell you, it's pretty much all mooses all the time. You just have to know how to see them.

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