Notes from the Hinterland: Slowing Down to Observe

img_5615Spring in Maine continues to be cold and gray. I am still wearing my winter garb—turtle neck, sweater, big corduroy shirt—and that is inside the house. Outside, I am even more bundled up.

Despite the recalcitrant weather, the grass is turning a bright green, and undeterred by cold, the perennials in my garden are bravely emerging from their winter sleep. However, I’ve heard that many farmers are behind in planting peas. The soil is just too cold for seeds to germinate.

But right on schedule, the maple flowers have started falling from the trees. Although May brings many delights that are much showier than this delicate flower, I’ll miss the cheerful red fringe on the maple trees in my backyard.

Until I took a picture of a maple flower and then cropped the photo, I had never really examined this little flower. I had never noticed the wave of stamens, the burst of petals, the lighter center. Instead, I had seen them the way an impressionist painter might, a welcome dab of red in a landscape just beginning to show color.

The maple flower is a reminder for me to slow down, to look closely at what surrounds me. All too often I rush through my days, checking off one chore after another: Vacuum, make bread, tidy the kitchen, work in the garden, do laundry, write, type the minutes for the last library trustee meeting, bike to the food pantry to volunteer. Chores certainly need to be done, but there must be some kind of balance between doing and looking. Listening and smelling should also be added to looking. Perhaps a better word would be noticing. Or observing.

After all, what kind of life do we have if we are so busy doing that we never take the time to notice, to observe?  Whether you live in a suburb, in a city, or in the countryside, there is always something to notice—the changing of seasons; nature, even in cities; the weather; sun and rain and clouds and sky; other people; buildings; animals. There is so much to observe, wherever you are.

Best of all, you don’t have to have a lot of money to observe closely. This is something the greedy financiers, who have grabbed and ruined so much, cannot take away from us. Despite how much actual money you might or might not have, a life spent observing, looking, and noticing is a rich one.

I’m thinking it might be time to buy a magnifying glass, so that I can look even more closely at the little marvels all around me.