Tuesday, February 09, 2010


I used to pride myself on my ability to see, which is mostly a matter of paying attention. But as my aging eyes have drifted into near and far-sightedness, I find my attention wanders too. Seeing is a cooperative act of eye and brain; one faculty depends upon the other.

Which is why I like to walk the beach with my neighbor Dwight. He has an impressive capacity to see. He'll be walking along, apparently daydreaming, and suddenly draw my attention to a tiny crab scuttling among the seaweed, or the shadow of a stingray drifting fifty feet off shore, or a sea hawk perched at the top of a pine a quarter-mile away. He doesn't miss much. And he does it so effortlessly.

Thoreau was much interested in the art of seeing. He wrote:
I must walk more with free senses. It is as bad to study stars and clouds as flowers and stones. I must let my senses wander as my thoughts, my eyes see without looking. Carlyle said that how to observe was to look, but I say that it is rather to see, and the more you look the less you will observe.
Thoreau has a delicious phrase: "What I need is not to look at all, but a true sauntering of the eye." A sauntering of the eye! That's Dwight as we dawdle along the sand.