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Wednesday, June 22, 2011: What you expect is what you see

         I was desperate to photograph mushrooms on our last trip to the cabin. In early July, I will be undergoing minor knee surgery; the recovery period includes two months of not bending and putting weight on the knee (while the meniscus hardens). Of course, that means a summer of not getting down to ground level for macro photography of lichens, mushrooms, and many wildflowers. I was anxious to find as many new specimens as possible in June.

         I found earthstars (puffball family) and blue-eyed grass (a member of the lily family) which were cool, but left me unsatisfied.

         If the timing was not so great for mushrooms and unidentified wildflowers, it was perfect for butterflies, moths, and damselflies. Ahhh---something new to photograph! In the early morning woods, damselflies (normally very shy and elusive) were looking for mates and could care less about my camera lens in their face. Butterflies, skippers, moths, and dragonflies remained their usual wary selves. There is a learning curve to taking photos of flying subjects and I will be working on it for some time.


          I talked my husband into walking a section of the North Country Trail off limits to bikes, hoping to find new mushrooms, butterflies, or wildflowers. Anything new to photograph. He walked ahead, scanning the treeline for birds. I scanned the grasses and edge of the trail for subjects of interest.



          It occurred to me that this is what I’ve trained for, back in cytopathology. Then, we were looking at hundreds of thousands of cells, scanning for those few cells that might represent the first signs of abnormality. Now, my eye was sorting through grasses and leaves to find some out-of-the-ordinary element. I patted myself on the back when I stumbled on this fellow, an Agreeable Tiger Moth.

          Even now, I think of the moth not as a female (playing the ice princess) but as an out-of-fashion count, wearing heavy winter robes in spite of the warmer season. Was it boldness or fear that kept him glued to his grass perch, out in the daylight and an open field, vulnerable to birds who must be busy finding food for their young? I began looking more intently for nearby butterflies, moths, or mushrooms.

         My husband had wandered far ahead while I lingered to take photographs, then met me coming back on the trail. Turning and retracing my steps, I was amazed to discover a wild columbine. Right there. Just off the trail.  R. had casually noticed it on his journey down the trail.


        A beautiful wild columbine. How could I have missed it when traveling the other way down the path? Hadn’t I been scouring the edges of the path? Weren’t these eyes trained to find details just like this? It was a rough reminder of another lesson learned from cytopathology.

        What you see is somewhat dependent on what you are looking for, what you expect to see. The brain sorts out a myriad of details as it zeros in on what you anticipate might be there. You can hold a myriad of expectations in your mind, but forget any option and the attention may not register what is right in front of your nose.

        What else is out there in the world that we are not seeing because it resides outside our realm of possibilities?

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 05:53PM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | Comments3 Comments

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