What strange observations keep my Eye active in these times of pandemic? As one who grew up in a city, the only growth I recall was the multiplication of telephone poles, or the unrolling of streets ever farther and farther. Oh, and there was concrete, plenty of concrete. And bricks. So it is that taking time to note the ways of real nature fascinate me today. Once I’ve been shown how to observe flora and fauna, it occurs to me that I’ve missed for years what many people enjoy every day. You see, until now, I’ve not taken time to actually observe; I only saw. I’ve started to appreciate the world even more. Do you? I’m one of the luckiest owls on earth, because I have friends who show me how to observe nature now, all the time.
Take for instance the local crows. I emerge every morning to throw them seeds for breakfast. (Ok, I doubt they call it breakfast, but stay with me here.) Now these large fellows, who promenade like Sewanee University graduates in flowing black cloaks, alert their crow buddies when I come out in the morning. Shrill ‘caws’ advise ‘Goodies are on the way!’ Or how about the placid brown rabbit family? They appear when the crows depart, expecting to feast on clover, laced amidst fallen apples which they also gorge on. Jittery squirrels venture out to snatch walnuts and then depart to hide them. (Question: Why do we have so many trees? Science tells us squirrels only recover four of every ten nuts they bury!) And so it goes. Raccoons, possums, skunks (!!!) and even red foxes have wandered through, and I can observe them all. A friend who mastered garden flowers which attract such wandering wonders advised what to plant, spread around and watch for. A friend indeed.
Where do they come from, these birds and beasts, and where do they go? Most of us know only our driveways and access roads to the highway. We crab and whine because we wait longer at traffic lights, and curse the inconsiderate fellow wage slaves also trying to get to work. We go to work and back, never noticing what is everywhere around us. An infinity of different trees, with their endless varieties of woods, are on every path and back road of Alabama. A friend who’s a woodworker pointed this out.
Another friend is a master of nature’s observation. Married to a Master Gardener, they take walks along forest paths, roadways, even parks and river trails. They wander down all these forest pathways and record each of the plants they come across. With long experience in observation, they no longer need the research most of us would require to know all the names of the almost infinite vines, leaves, weeds, flowers and undergrowth they discover. And insects! How many different ones are out there? Why? You can literally see the food chain in operation. Those squiggly and fuzzy things exist for a reason, which is usually as a snack for a larger, cuddlier creature. Such friends who’ve seen and loved nature showed me how to appreciate it, too.
And where do we see these wonders we have in abundance, right near where we live here in Athens? Wander along placid, walkable Swan Creek’s trail. Did you know the strange ‘Dismals’ landscape, a valley of bizarre rocks and creeks, is only a short ride away? How about the magnificent Little River Falls, not a couple hours down the road? If it’s too hot this summer, there’s always Cathedral Caverns where the temperature is always in the 60s. Look around, but use your Owl’s Eye to observe, not just see. Better yet, make friends who can explain what a Master Gardener sees in nature, or what a Wheeler Wildlife Nature Reserve expert has come to appreciate. Befriend that lover of flowers who knows what attracts the other wonders all around us. Friends, expand your world.
— John William Davis is a retired U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, civil servant and linguist. He was commissioned from Washington University in St. Louis in 1975. He entered counterintelligence and served some 37 years. A linguist, Davis learned foreign languages in each country in which he served. His published works include "Rainy Street Stories: Reflections on Secret Wars, Terrorism and Espionage" and "Around the Corner: Reflections on American Wars, Violence, Terrorism and Hope."