A Different Perspective on the Art of Seeing
by Dale Jeffrey, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
When I was a boy my family and I lived on a farm several miles from the school I attended. Occasionally, rather than take the bus, I caught a ride with my parents’ gardener, a German man in his 70s at the time. His name was Andy.
Andy was a simple man with simple tastes, and his pride and joy was an old 1940 Chevrolet which he kept immaculately clean, and I do not believe that he ever drove it faster than 40 kilometres per hour. Andy loved to talk, and I loved to listen, but there was difficulty, because Andy’s second favorite thing was garlic – lots and lots of it, liberally coating his sandwiches. Because of his pride in the car, and because of the dusty roads leading to the farm, I was always instructed to keep the windows rolled up tight. This made the garlic smell unbearable, and so I would do my very best to listen to Andy, whilst looking out the window at the farms and trees and ponds as they so slowly moved past. Despite the fact that I had travelled these roads hundreds of times at normal speed, going so slow I discovered things which I had never seen before. New trillium flower patches in the forest, white-tailed deer, little ponds...all of these appeared to me because I was going so slowly.
Decades later I took an interest in astronomy, building my own observatory in the dark skies of Saskatchewan. I served on the board for The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Saskatchewan section), and spend nearly every clear night peering through the eyepiece of my 12" Schmidt-Cassegrain, and one night in particular staring for nearly two hours at a group of five galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet, a little Elgar in the background, endeavouring to draw this amazing sight, and then putting my charts and journals away so that I could simply stare in wonder. The key was putting the charts away, and simply staring. It was like driving with Andy. The worries and cares of my daily existence disappeared, and I no longer cared about the details of the galactic cluster so much as simply observing in awe, going very slowly across the night sky, and seeing it as though for the very first time. It was a little more like Zen than science, and I loved every minute.
In a similar manner, as I prepare slides from the pond water in my back garden, I often stop my recording and photographing of each specimen, try to “turn down” my knowledge of the species I’m seeing, and just enter the world before me, perhaps like going Through the Looking Glass. Rotifers and diatoms and algae carry on their lives before me, allowing me to enter their world for a few minutes, or sometimes hours, and I cease to care about the science so much, and rather endeavour to experience the simple awe. I’m turning my back on the cares and worries, the chatter of the science, and as though driving again in that slow moving 1940 Chev with my old friend Andy, I am moving slowly enough to see and appreciate that which I had never experienced before.
Aristotle begins his great Metaphysics with a simple statement : “All humans, by nature, desire to know.” Sadly I think, science in its never-ending quest for knowledge, sometimes forgets that describing a thing is not the same as observing and explaining it. Gathering data is not the same as truly understanding through humble connection. Although much that science gives us is absolutely wonderful, it does not often promote wonder. It seldom contributes to a sense of awe, often I think, because it is moving too fast. As an amateur microscopist, I can go as slowly as I wish, like on a drive with Andy, and in so doing, see so much more.
Dale Jeffrey is a retired priest, living in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
All comments to the author Dale Jeffrey are welcomed.
Microscopy UK Front
Published in the April 2015 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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