The Art of Looking


Big Sur River Meets Pacific

The unexpected turns, the variations on a theme as you round a corner, done on purpose done indeed in order to change direction. Oh, life. Such abundance.

Last night near sundown I went to the state park that borders our beach, the place where the Big Sur River headlongs into the the Pacific. The river winds and turns gracefully, edged with reeds, logs, flowering bushes, the things of a river. Then the very air changes to some internally registered thrill, some dangerous anticipation. The flow alters. The banks widen. The air is doing unexpected current sweeps. There is titillating goosebumping excitement.

And from the increasingly dark overhangs and ruggedly twisted undergrowth is a diminishing chord as if a symphony has slowly limited itself to the single plaintiff mystery of one long note on one small string of one single instrument until silence is reached, a fuller silence than almost the body can bear. You plunge forward on the narrow dry path that changes color in quickening tempo until BAM! The ocean! You are thrown at it as mercilessly and with as much excitement as the fresh water feels.

Oh my God! scream the river blue green blues turning somersaults…I’m tasting salt, WOW! The unlimited surface of Earth and…I’M ON THE MOTHERSHIP!

Observation is about the single most important skill to nurture. It helps with everything from painting pictures to writing words to remembering faces. I’ve been taught and learnt my own tricks for picking up speed in that department.

One is this, worth trying. Describe. Describe what is around you, far and near. Keep at perfecting it until you find the right words, the ones that match the experience, the color, the form, shape, bulk, sense of it. I learned that from two excellent reporters. One, Edward R. Murrow’s war reports from London. The other, NY’s venerable genius Gabe Pressman who knows a lot about wordsmithery. It works. It is as simple as Murrow’s writing, as direct as:  I am on a rooftop in London. Bombs are bursting around me. Gabe’s advice: The sidewalk is split, goes from gray to black. The curb I approach has 3 shoots of grass, one dandelion sprouts from concrete. Dark blue Chevy in front of pink marble facade…

Another is to get all your receptors going full steam. Force if you must, connect, think about all the parts you have to call into service for Sight, Smell, Touch. All the vanguards of the body. Get them vibrating into the atmosphere like feelers on a millipede, like muzzle whiskers on a cat, like a capable human drinking in the abundant resources to fill you up with information. Knowledge. Instinct. Impulse. All that good stuff.

Take notes. Mental and written. Make a drawing. It all connects to the experience of the planet we’re lucky to be living on. Free. Enriching. Life. Music of the spheres. We have it in us to not miss out on a single thing.

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