A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults

Seeing Nature

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart. – Helen Keller

I vividly remember when I learned that my grandfather was becoming blind.  Macular degeneration had destroyed all but his peripheral vision, and in order to see me when we spoke, he looked away from me.  It was an eerie experience for a young boy.  As his vision disappeared, his precious wood-carving tools began to gather dust in the basement, and his well-loved books sat silent on their shelves.

But my grandfather never seemed upset as his vision faded.  I’d sit next to him in the living room, gazing out the huge picture window, and he’d say, “Here come the chickadees.”  The first time he did this I felt a little embarrassed for him, because the feeders were empty except for a pair of cardinals.  But a moment later, as if my grandfather were some mystic seer, his predication came true and the chickadees flickered down out of the sky.

He could predict which birds would come to the feeders with uncanny accuracy.  He wasn’t psychic, of course.  Rather, he was hearing birds perched in trees across the yard as they discussed how they’d approach the feeders.  But the sounds that were so clear to his ears seemed inaudible to me.  The loss of his sight had helped him pay more attention to his other sensory impressions – impressions that I ignored because I relied so heavily on sight.

I had forgotten the lessons of my grandfather’s blindness until my wife and I stepped outside the other day and were confronted with a remarkable cacophony. It was the busy chirping of a horde of goldfinches that had just come to the feeders.

As we stood there enfolded by an almost deafening symphony, I closed my eyes and suddenly remembered my grandfather’s ability to predict the coming of the birds.  It made me wonder how much of the world passes us by, lost because our senses have grown complacent.  As writers, Rebecca and I often spend much of our day in front of a computer, with a bright glare in our eyes and the computer’s hum in our ears.  Often it’s not until we step outside that our senses begin to wake up, and if we sit outside long enough, the world begins to come to life.  Birdsong and wind’s caress, dripping icicles and billowing clouds, a hawk spreading its feathers into the rising air of a thermal.  These are hints of the bounty available to our senses when we take the time to step out into nature.

As Rebecca and I went back inside to sit down to our computers, I silently thanked my grandfather.  He had turned his blindness into a gift, inspiring a young boy to realize that the world is bigger and more mysterious than we usually think.  Nature is uniquely qualified to compliment his teachings- next time I go for a walk, I think I’ll take a bit more time to pay attention to the sounds, smells, visions, and sensations around me.

As Helen Keller suggested, the gifts of our senses can lead us to beautiful discoveries.  For me, the sound of the goldfinches led me back to a memory of my grandfather, and his lessons bring me full circle to nature, where I discover what it really means to see, even when my eyes are closed.

12 Responses to “Seeing Nature”

  1. This is interesting and so true. I have sat outside watching and listening to nature and once your mind is quiet you start to experience many things you miss otherwise. I am going to do the same except close my eyes and just use my sense of hearing and smell once the weather relents. I can just imagine it now. Warm sun on my skin, light breeze blowing and a myriad of sounds to process.

    How’s the little adventurer?

  2. Thank you so much for reminding me! You are so right! We certainly should pay attention to our other senses. It makes us see so much more!

  3. What a beautiful memory of your grandfather. To have the gift to find something positive in something that many people would see as a tragedy is a rare and wonderful gift indeed. My grandfather too lost his eyesight, but did not fair as well as your grandfather, for him it was more than he could bare and caused great depression. He lost is ability to read and work with his hands which was his greatest joy. Before his eyesight failed, he was a vibrant man with a great love of nature and he instilled that love in me. I’ve always been grateful that he was a part of my life and taught me so many valuable lessons like he did. Many things I encounter as I explore outside have the ability to remind me of him, and I always feel like he is with me.

  4. Dear MObugs,

    What a beautiful story! The loss of vision can indeed be tragic, but even though it affected him so deeply, he clearly left a powerful impression in your life — one that you are sharing with so many others! Keep up the legacy =)

  5. Hi Grethe!

    Indeed — it’s so easy to be overly dependent on sight, and it can be so amazing to give attention to the powers of our other senses.

  6. Hi Dave!

    That sounds like a great thing to do — we, too are eager for spring. It’s been a fun winter, though! Mirabelle is doing great — she goes on hikes quite often, though it’s often so cold that she needs to be tucked in close to our bodies to stay warm. In the spring she’ll be able to roll about in the grass and meet all sorts of bugs. Yipeee!

  7. Very touching memory! This reminds me of my grandfather, who was stone-cold-deaf, or so we thought:) He could never hear us until we were talking about him. He’d get that gleam in his eye, and give a faint, sly grin showing that he knew we were talking about him.

    One thing that I have made a practice of is simply sitting with my eyes closed when out on my hikes. It is amazing what sounds I pick up on that would usually go unnoticed. Just the sound of a faint breeze, or the sounds of the squirrel’s claws on the bark of the tree are so calming.


  8. Hi Knapperbill!

    Great story about your grandfather! And we couldn’t agree more — taking the time to just sit with our eyes closed and ears (and other senses) open opens whole new worlds of experience out in nature. What fun!

  9. Beautiful narration. I love watching nature in its pure form as this is the best of the hobbies. I have shared the post in my blog from the provision provided of sharing from your blog to share this beautiful post with my viewers too.

  10. Hi Jalal!

    Thank you! You have a great blog going over there!

  11. This is such an exquisite piece. I just stumbled across your blog now looking for inspiration. I’ve recently started my own on WordPress with a strong natural and environmental focus so I love reading the thoughts of other people celebrating nature in prose.
    Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful memory of your grandfather. A lovely tribute.

  12. Wild About Nature Blog » Seeing Nature…

    On a different note, this is a personal blog story about really seeing nature, as told by a lady with an exceptional father who was going blind….

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