Look Down


The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.
James Oppenheim

It’s become a bit of a cliché that people don’t look up enough; they don’t take the time to gaze up at the clouds, the stars, the echelons (you know, that V pattern!) of migratory birds.

But what about looking down? My recent early morning walks have yielded foot-level sightings of rabbit families, colonies of funnel web spiders, a scurrying vole, entire condo complexes of ants, and a visit with a stunningly decorated moth in the center of the brick sidewalk. The pattern she boasted was reminiscent of some of the fine, filigreed, turn-of-the-last-century marcasite you can find at estate jewelry counters. My Golden Guide told me she was a caterpillarworm moth. They are known to lay their eggs near wounds in tree bark. My find, if she is lucky, will live three or four years. I think I increased her odds by removing her from the flow of foot traffic.

Of course,  my casual observations don’t hold a candle to those devoted to looking down, probably at the risk of getting stuck in a stooped position. EO Wilson, Pulitzer prize winner known to many as “the ant man”, can’t stop waxing enthusiastic about his favored species and his newer, inspired project, the Encyclopedia of Life. In The Forest Unseen, David George Haskell spent a year observing all manner of tiny life in a meter-wide mandala. And a chapter in Alexandra Horowitz’ On Looking is devoted to “Flipping Things Over”, in which field naturalist Charley Eiseman is a vigilant and enthused observer of insect (and other small creature) signs—tiny larval trails in a leaf, slug teeth marks, and such. This is the kind of guy who spends five hours in a driveway turning over leafs and logs before setting out on the “official” invertebrate tour he’s planned.

Those of us of a certain age, especially, will hear Casey Kasem’s voice in our heads when we read the quotation: “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”It’s a phrase associated with American Top 40, but I think it’s okay to adopt it for much quieter time outside in nature, too. There’s a lot to see curbside, right alongside your sneakered feet.

Happy stooping!




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