Annie Dillard’s Seeing


How well do you “see”? Are you a keen observer of nature? For your nature journal this week, try using different perspectives. What do you see if you lie on the ground as opposed to sitting high on a ledge? What does a tree look like at different angles? What can you see that is very close to you? Far away? How does changing your perspective change your observations?

“Things don’t change. You change your way of looking, that’s all.’.”

—Carlos Castaneda

Student Journal: “Try observing through new perspectives.” Kayla’s Journal (sketch) (pdf)

Literary Connection

It’s all a matter of keeping my eyes open. Nature is like one of those line drawings of a tree that are puzzles for children: Can you find hidden in the leaves a duck, a house, a boy, a bucket, a zebra, and a boot? Specialists can find the most incredibly well hidden things. A book I read when I was young recommended an easy way to find caterpillars to rear: you simply find some fresh caterpillar droppings, look up, and there’s your caterpillar. More recently an author advised me to set my mind at ease about those piles of cut stems on the ground in grassy fields. Field mice make them; they cut the grass down by degrees to reach the seeds at the head. It seems that when the grass is tightly packed, as in a field of ripe grain, the blade won’t topple at a single cut through the stem; instead, the cut stem simply drops vertically, held in the crush of grain. The mouse severs the bottom again and again, the stem keeps dropping an inch at a time, and finally the head is low enough for the mouse to reach the seeds.

Meanwhile, the mouse is positively littering the field with its little piles of cut stems into which, presumably, the author of the book is constantly stumbling.

If I can’t see these minutiae, I still try to keep my eyes open. I’m always on the lookout for antlion traps in sandy soil, monarch pupae near milkweed, skipper larvae in locust leaves.

from Annie Dillard’s chapter titled “Seeing” in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

A simile is a figure of speech that uses the words “like” or “as” to compare things. Here, Dillard uses “like” to compare nature to the line drawings of a tree that are “puzzles for children.”

Downloadable PDF

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