I was driving out my country road the other day, appreciating the beauty of the grand sycamores, my absolute favorites. They are among the most majestic of trees, easily distinguished by their bark, which flakes off in patches, leaving white, gray, and brown surfaces on the trunks. You’ll most often see them along stream banks, and sometimes along rural lanes. I’ve been looking at, and loving them, along these roads and creeks for twenty-five years.
The other day, though, I noticed something different about one of the trees I’d always found the most impressive, in a bend near the creek. It seemed to be decorated! There were little brown balls hanging from all the branches! If you know sycamores you are laughing at me now.
I thought, “I don’t remember seeing those before. I sure don’t recall seeing them yesterday!”
Every sycamore I encountered after that one was covered with these ornaments. They are stunning, and beautiful. How did I look at them yesterday and not see this?
That set me to thinking about looking without seeing, and relearning the lesson of being present where I am.
I spent my 50th birthday morning, over a decade ago, sitting on the porch of the temple at Furnace Mountain – a Buddhist retreat center in rural Kentucky. That afternoon I wrote my reflections, and compared my time there to sitting on the platform of a train station, riding the various trains of thought that stopped to pick me up. I wrote:
“A butterfly catches my eye, and I watch him land on the mimosa tree. I board another train and travel through an elaborate metaphor sparked by the mimosa blossom. I’m in my car with my sister, pointing out a mimosa tree beside the road, telling her how rare they are here in Kentucky, compared to how plentiful they seemed to me, years ago, growing up in New Jersey. In a moment we are passing another house, with another mimosa tree in the front yard. Then every other house has a mimosa tree in the front yard. Then there are mimosas nearly lining the road. I think of expectation and illusion.”
When I got back to Pigeon Fork Road that day I noticed a few small yellow butterflies as I crossed the creek. Then I noticed more. I passed a puddle where several dozen small yellow butterflies were taking a drink. Between one farm and the next I saw hundreds of them.
I sometimes wonder about all the amazing beauty I don’t see every day, simply because my mind has hopped aboard another train of thought and left me behind.