At the Kimono exhibit in New York City, after I had spent hours absorbing and photographing the works on display, I realized that I had lost track of my husband Jim.
I found him here...
Completely absorbed in I knew not what.
Not wanting to interrupt his meditation, I paused to take in the sculpture which seemed to focus his attention...
In time, he saw me out of the corner of his eye and turned a somewhat faraway gaze on me.
I sat next to him and asked, "What do you see?"
And he said,
"I've been watching this fountain for about an hour. Of all the people that have walked by this sculpture, less than 50% have bent down to look below the screen.
Of those that bent down, only 1 in 10 have stopped to read the placard on the wall."
"And of those who have read its description, only 3 of them have sat here and checked it out. I'm one of the three."
I realized I was in the category of walking by without even seeing it. After all, it wasn't a textile, it wasn't embroidered...I had dismissed it as merely "setting the stage" for the exhibit.
"It's a fountain, and for the life of me I haven't been able to see the water flowing over the edge of the rock, yet it is. I've been sitting here trying to see the water move and I cannot. It's really quite brilliant."
I sat beside him, trying to see the water move. I got up and moved closer. I squatted down...but no. I couldn't see the water move either...but it was. There was a constant flow that wet the top and sides of the sculpture without once rippling or bubbling or breaking surface tension. It really was brilliant and I hadn't even seen it.
I was reminded of something that author Alexandra Horowitz had written...
Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.
By marshaling your attention to these words, helpfully framed in a distinct border of white, you are ignoring an unthinkably large amount of information that continues to bombard all of your senses: the hum of the fluorescent lights, the ambient noise in a large room, the places your chair presses against your legs or back, your tongue touching the roof of your mouth, the tension you are holding in your shoulders or jaw, the map of the cool and warm places on your body, the constant hum of traffic or a distant lawn-mower, the blurred view of your own shoulders and torso in your peripheral vision, a chirp of a bug or whine of a kitchen appliance.
It's from her book titled, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, in which the author writes of eleven different walks in New York City, most of them through her neighborhood, with eleven different companions. First, she walks by herself and notes everything she sees. Then she goes with her toddler, a geologist, an artist, her dog...you get the idea...and records her discoveries as her "familiar" surroundings are new again when seen through the senses of her companions. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and found myself wanting to take a walk with Sidney Horenstein, a geologist who works for the Natural History Museum and gives geological tours through Central Park.
I came close to that experience a couple of years ago when fellow crazy quilter and blogging friend Betty Pillsbury came to visit. Betty drove eight hours to Maryland from the Catskill mountains of Vermont. By the time she arrived, her body was cramped from the car and needed to move so I took her for a walk on the Grist Mill Trail along the Patapsco River where I walk many times per week.
Once we crossed over the bridge, Betty started pointing out all of the botanical names and uses for many of the plants along the trail. Not only is Betty a talented quilter and embroiderer, she's also an herbalist.
Her knowledge of botany completely transformed the surroundings I thought I knew so well. To this day, I smile and think of Betty when I see the Jack-in-the-Pulpits bloom in the Spring or when I spy the Mullein leaves which I now know to be nature's best wipe when you're in the woods and haven't got toilet paper!
Yesterday Jim and I went on that same walk which for us has grown fairly routine. After walking in silence for some time my thoughts returned to Betty and how the walk was so different for me once I saw it through her eyes. My wandering thoughts led me to my closest companion, so I asked of Jim...
"What do you see?"
"See that bit of the river, right there?" he said, pointing to an area where the water was running quickly around the rocks, "I thought that would be a perfect spot to show to a group of students. It's an eddy current. See how the water flows really fast on either side of that rock but there is a pool of water that stagnates and kind of swirls back around upstream? That's an eddy. Once you understand an eddy current you can much better understand heat transfer and using a fluid to cool a surface..."
And he went on to talk of thermal dynamics as we walked along the river holding hands and contemplating the efficiency of various surfaces for cooling fluids such as air.
What a rich world we live in if only we would could see it all.
What do you see? Even more importantly, what don't you see?
P.S. It turns out that the sculptor of the fountain above was Isamu Nogichi (1904-1988), a well-known Japanese-American artist and landscape architect who has his own museum in Long Island, NY and whose sculpture I've passed many times on the Associated Press building at 50 Rockefeller center. He had a fascinating life that included a volunteer stay as an artist in a Japanese internment camp during WWII. He was almost imprisoned for treason but the intercession of the Civil Liberties Union saved him.