February 19, 2023 Comments Off on New eyes
The more you look at a thing, after a while, the less you see.
No matter how beautiful the landscape, with time your eyes adjust. The extraordinarily beautiful becomes ordinary. Seasonal changes, sunlight, heavy snows, a freshening rain, these things can all reawaken your mind to the beauty of a landscape, but soon it becomes background again.
This is mostly neuroscience. Your brain is trained to decode what’s new, store it as memory, and built new transitions atop the old landscape. It’s the efficiency of not having to be stopped dead in your tracks every time you gaze upon the astonishing beauty of nature. And although conscious looking can keep your mind taut, the more you do it, the more difficult it becomes to see the old as if it’s new. To paraphrase Greg Lemond, it doesn’t get easier, you just see more.
I was returning home from my walk yesterday and saw something truly new: a jogger coming up Old State Road. People don’t jog up here because it’s rather remote and because it’s very uphill. The only jogger I’d seen before was an Air B&B denizen who had made it less than a quarter mile up the mostly flat, paved, bottom section of the road. When she got to the hairpin she simply stopped and whipped out her phone. We could hear her telling her boyfriend how her “workout was over” and “it was super hilly and hard out here.” Minutes later he came by in his car and scooped her up.
But this person was way up above the paved section, and laboring mightily. Snykes and I watched him slow to a crawl, then to a walk. We continued down the road until we met. Snykes lunged at him to say hello, and he was terrified. I felt awful.
“I hate dogs,” the small, old man said. “I was bitten badly once.”
I pulled Snykes back. “I’m really sorry. He’s friendly but all dogs bite. I’m really sorry for scaring you.”
The man smiled. “It’s okay. He looks friendly but I’m afraid.” Then he looked at me, ragged beard, ragged hair, red plaid woolen shirt, suspenders, green wool jacket. “Do you live here?”
“Yeah,” I said.
His face opened up in a smile bigger than Dallas. “You are so lucky!” he practically shouted. “This mountain air! It’s incredible! It fills my whole body with life! This is the real America,” he said, sweeping his hands at the snowy peaks. “This is real life! This!” he repeated, “is the real America. You are a lucky, lucky man to have this!”
“You’re pretty lucky, too. I’ve never seen anyone jogging up here before. So you’ve got a million or so acres of wildlands to yourself.”
“It’s incredible!” Then he frowned. “Los Angeles is so horrible! Do you know LA?”
“I’m not crazy about it.”
“It is so horrible! You have to work so hard to make money and then you have to work even harder to pay for the things you bought with the money you made. It is endless! I hate it! In the end you can only get ahead if you lie, cheat, steal, become a horrible person like everyone else.”
“Sounds about right.”
“What do you do?”
“No! You are too young! It can’t be!”
The man had a strong accent but I couldn’t place it. It wasn’t Chinese, or Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese. He was in his 70’s, wiry, and decked out in the most expensive running outfit, replete with new shoes. “Well, I didn’t say I’m rich. I said ‘retired.'”
He shook his head vigorously. “You are rich, my good friend. You are more than rich. You have what is not for sale, what cannot be bought. You have this!” He swept his hands again, shaking his head at the beauty, and snorting as he inhaled. “Do you see my shoes?”
“They are brand new, best model, very expensive, big cushion. Do you know why? Because in LA everything is asphalt, hard, paved, it breaks your bones. So I have to buy these expensive shoes to protect my joints. But out here the ground is so soft! It is like running on a mattress! It is amazing!” He paused. “Are you married?”
He nodded. “She won’t come to the mountains. My wife, I mean. She hates nature. She loves the city. I have begged her to move, to leave it all. We have money, a nice house, we could live here. I’m an old man. I am tired of working. I want this. I need this. But she won’t.”
I nodded. “Not many would.”
“But how many years do I have left? Not long, that’s for sure. I dream about taking a bunch of credit cards and running away in the middle of the night.”
“Don’t do that.”
“No, I couldn’t. I’m too old. There is either divorce, or acceptance, or running away. That’s it.”
“It’s called three bad choices.”
“And I’m OCD. Do you know what that is?”
“I think so.”
“It helps me be successful at work but it makes me miserable.”
“Nature can help you if you let it.”
“See that giant stone way over there?” He shaded his eyes, looked and nodded. “Now ask yourself, ‘What am I looking at?’ Are you doing that now?” He nodded. “Notice how your mind is empty except for that one thought?” He nodded again. “That’s your OCD medicine. When a compulsive thought enters your head, just look at the natural world and ask what you’re looking at. It will vanish like chalk wiped from a blackboard.”
He turned to me. “This is true! It really worked! You are a very wise man!” He was getting emotional.
“I’m hardly wise. But nature can soothe what ails you if you let it.”
“This meeting. It was ordained. It was meant to be. I know it.”
“Tomorrow morning I’m going to church with my friend and I will thank God for you and your kindness and your wisdom.” He put his hands together and bowed towards me.
“Well, I have to thank you, too.”
“Me? What for?”
“For the new eyes,” I said.