Wednesday, February 16, 2022
Do you know what I noticed today? Two fat robins hanging out on the grass. One was looking one way and one was looking the other. They didn’t move or do anything, just watched.
One of them noticed me and hopped a few steps in the other direction.
I noticed them because Ralph and I were out walking, because it’s February and it was almost 70 degrees.
All the windows in our apartment were open. And instead of the treadmill, we took a half hour off and walked outside.
Between work and weather I haven’t been outside much these past few months, not longer than it takes to get from the door to the car on a trip to Whole Foods or a few minutes hopping up and down to keep warm while standing on line at the Farmers Market.
But the weather was gorgeous today, warm and windy and sunny and cloudy. A day made for walking.
I noticed the robins because they made me think of spring and I wondered what they were doing. I wondered how they got so fat and where they went when it got cold. I wondered what the heck they were staring at in both directions and whether they were doing it together or separately.
It was then that I landed on the word for today, the thing I have gone through too many days not doing, the thing I finally, accidentally did today: notice.
Maybe I was subconsciously primed by my friend Kaarina, who just recently wrote her own reflection about noticing. She used the word behold. Fancy word. I like that one, too.
But for me today it was the simple act of noticing that I noticed.
Do you ever notice how easy it is to eat an entire meal without tasting a single thing? Or to have someone say, It’s raining, and you look up startled to see that it really is.
Sometimes I make it a point to stop and notice something, anything, the color of the table or the quality of the light. Too often I’m completely disconnected from anything in the world at all, so caught up in my head and whatever I’m doing.
But when I get outside, it’s like a little magical doorway opens up and suddenly there are a billion zillion things saying hey, look at me!
I noticed another bird sitting on a bare tree branch. I don’t know what kind of bird and I don’t know what kind of tree but they were perfectly color coordinated, blacks and whites contrasting and blending together.
The tree had tiny black berries on the branches, which made me notice the red berries on the evergreens and the white berries on another plant and the no berries on several more.
Do you know what else I noticed today? The bottom of my microwave is filled with popcorn.
Seriously. I haven’t made popcorn in weeks and I’ve certainly used the microwave. It must have out-popped the bag and I never noticed.
Today, as I scooped up popcorn and wondered whether there could be a worse home-keeper than me, I swore to be better at seeing what was right in front of me.
Other things I noticed outside: a multitude of dried clusters of hydrangea flowers, brown and papery, scattered on the sidewalks and in the gardens. I couldn’t tell if the wind today had blown them off, or if they’d been decapitated by the guy with the weed whacker who seems to be whacking something constantly even though I can’t image that many weeds are growing right now.
I did pick one up and take it home with me. It’s not a seashell, but I’m a collector, and I need a little piece of the world to remind me that there are things to notice. It’s on the table where I can be reminded to keep doing that tomorrow.
I noticed a garden full of pine cones and walked by without picking one up even though my fingers itched. But then there was another patch of them and I couldn’t help it, I ran into the garden and snatched the nearest one.
It kind of looks like half a pinecone, like something ate the bottom half of the scales.
Scales. They’re called scales. I looked it up. It’s not a pretty word, but it’s true.
It’s a lot easier for me to notice things when I’m outside, maybe because that’s when I’m finally untethered from technology. I could be listening to a podcast, or to music. But I usually don’t. I like listening to the birds and the branches and not so much the trucks and the construction.
Sometimes I take pictures with my phone. I have a lot of pictures of clouds. An anthropologist would have a field day with my photo library. Clouds, food, drinks, flowers, more clouds.
The cool thing about noticing stuff is that once you start, it’s easy to do. Suddenly all these things you have almost never seen before start to become very obvious. Like the bright red fire valves all over my community. If you had asked me yesterday whether I had seen the fire valves, I probably would have said, I guess? I’ve lived here almost three years.
In addition to the gauzy haze floating over a full moon, and the pinkish hue of uplights casting shadows on a brick building, perhaps the most interesting thing I noticed today is that a lot of people walk with their heads down.
They may be looking at their phones, or just staring at the sidewalk. But I find it strange. I know you’re not always in the mood to be social but a nod in someone’s general direction seems like minimal effort in pursuit of being human,
I tend to walk staring up, because that’s where the clouds are, but I come down out of them to say good morning or smile at someone passing by. I would say easily three-quarters of people I passed by today were staring at the ground or at the phones in their hands. I paid attention, because I was noticing.
I wondered if people with dogs were more apt to be friendly. Dogs and babies always make good social buffers, because you can always just say, oh how cute, and then both of you can stare at the dog or the baby instead of having to interact with each other.
But no. People with dogs were just as likely to walk by with their eyes glued to the sidewalk as people without.
Some people seemed genuinely shy. You could see they were smiling, but eye contact was a bridge too far. Some were preoccupied, whether listening to something plugged into their heads or looking at something happening in their hand. Others seemed plain old uninterested. They were out walking their dogs and so what if you happened to be on the same sidewalk?
I also noticed that friendly people tend to be friendly. They will wave at you across the parking lot and tell you it’s a nice day for a walk, isn’t it?
Not much in between. Sometimes you’ll get a nod or a hey, but mostly people are either friendly… or not.
It’s interesting what you notice when you look.
Noticing is a fun game. It also makes for a more interesting day. And anything I can do to get out of my head is fabulous, as far as I’m concerned, even if there are no clouds involved.
The other thing I’m noticing is that it’s getting late and the week is not over yet and tomorrow is going to come whether I’ve slept enough or not. The good news is that notice has a lot of synonyms, like behold, because I think I am going to want to do this again.
Photo: the hydrangea flower and pinecone found on today’s walk.