When I was in graduate school, I could get lost for hours looking into a microscope—looking at things our eyes can’t see—red and white blood cells, chromosomes, uric acid crystals in urine, sperm cells, and so many other incredible structures. It was a whole other fascinating world that we carry with us, that is us!
Our woodland Cooper’s Hawk flew to an Oak tree branch when I happened to be looking out the window. I know he saw me looking at him—in other words, he watched me like a hawk. He wasn’t too perturbed, as he sat there for quite a while, fluffed up his feathers, and continued watching.
Hawks and other raptors have excellent vision—they can see 4 to 5 times farther than humans, have superior color vision, and deeper foveas that allow their eyes to act like a telephoto lens. They need this acute vision to focus in on their prey from a great distance, then accurately capture it.
With our much more limited eyesight, we get a bigger picture of the world by moving our eyes and heads. We are capable of seeing the big picture and the details of things that are close by but often overlooked. The big picture of Autumn is the changing colors of the landscape, but I thought I would focus in on a more detailed look at Fall through the camera’s telephoto lens. The needle-like leaves of the Larch tree are changing to a golden yellow and will drop to the ground like a carpet.
Spiny seeds of Queen Anne’s Lace have begun their dispersal by wind or clinging to the fur, feather, or pantleg of a passerby.
Scarlet cones of Sumac berries top the equally beautiful crimson foliage and will remain as a food source for dozens of birds throughout the winter, long after the leaves have fallen.
Huge white puffs of ‘Annabelle’ Hydrangea flowers gradually dry to a rich, toasted brown color and can be brought indoors for a beautiful Fall decoration.
Individual seeds on the Purple Coneflower light up like pegs on a Lite-Brite screen.
Fast growing fungi popped up all over the yard after days of rain. Isn’t it incredible that such a strange structure, complete with unique colors and shapes, can grow so quickly then melt away to nothing?
Like a huge bouquet of tiny rosebuds, each ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum flower spreads its namesake to all who see them.
Behold the first leaf to change from green to wine on one of the many ‘Nannyberry’ Vibernums we have planted in the woods.
Dried Fern fronds remind me of the racks of drying tobacco I remember from my childhood, that hung in Pennsylvania barns.
The lace cap flowers of ‘Quick Fire’ Hydrangea bloom a pure white and gradually turn pink as Summer wanes and Fall arrives.
Joe Pye Weed seedheads look like pink sheaves of wheat blowing in the breeze.
A tangle of plumy seedheads from a Purple Smoke tree is rarely noticed at this time of year.
The landscape of Fall is beautiful; the details of Autumn are intriguing, just as the landscape and microscopic details of our bodies are amazing. Though we don’t have the keen distance sight of a hawk, we do have the marvelous ability to see the big picture and the details, both literally and figuratively. But what happens when we are only focused on one certain thing?
The other objects in sight are rarely noticed or are distorted beyond reality. At times like this, a person’s world and vision gets small—when the focus of his sight and mind is singular and obsessive. It happens when a person is fighting for her life. It happens when despair covers a person like a cloak, and she seems to melt away to nothing. It happens when one is lost for hours, days, years in addiction. It happens when suffering people are unimportant compared to money. It happens every day. It is rare that a person in this situation can correct his vision on his own, let alone have the inner and outer resources to change his world. That’s where the rest of us come in, for if you think you live your life as an island, you are either a fool or delusional. We are our brothers’ keepers. Before that seems overwhelming or raises the hackles of defense, know that we are hard-wired as social creatures. We are meant to look out for one another. It starts with taking good care of ourselves, our partners and families, then our friends and community, our country, our Earth. Like a hawk, we can watch for despair or addiction, for suffering and injustice, and though we cannot do the inner work for the people affected, we can stand by their side and do what we can to assist them. We need to be able to help them see the big picture, yet work diligently with the details. And then there are the things our eyes can’t see—love, faith, hope, resiliency—that sustain us even when the material world has dried up and fallen away or been washed away in a flood. Behold!