I tell my kids that if they go outside long enough, they’re bound to see something cool. It’s simply a matter of putting yourself out there.
My dad has been a commercial fisherman off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina for 40 years. Even though he is technically retired, he still fishes almost every day. In 40 years of fishing the same waters, he has seen things that most of us will never witness. For the average land dweller, our trips on the ocean consist of an hour long trip on a sunny day or an all day fishing excursion that lands us happily back at the dock in time for cocktails. Not so for my father. He’s spent almost as much time on the water as he has on the land and he’s seen things, things you and I will never see.
He’s seen dolphins swim playfully next to his boat, a tornado beginning as a swirling whirlpool on the surface of the water and lifting itself spinning into the air, enormous bolts of lightning that raised the hair on the back of his neck and sent him running for the cabin, and innumerable sharks of every variety. He has found all kinds of interesting things drifting in the ocean, eery things and odd things, a giant trash bag full of marijuana for one.
The forest is no different. If you spend enough time in it, it’s going to reward you. I tell my kids when we hike to look for a treasure. We always find one. The key is to redefine what will count as a treasure. Recently I found a sodden dollar bill floating on the surface of a puddle on the trail. Last week I found two sets of owl pellets, each with tiny bones and fur and one with some sort of tiny hoof.
Yesterday I saw a hawk clutching a possum carcass in his talons and tearing the flesh away with his beak. There wasn’t much left of the possum besides a head, a spine and a tail, but I got a good look at the hawk. It’s amazing how much bigger they seem when they’re standing a few yards away, compared to when they’re twirling around on a thermal high above. According to my bird identification app, he was a red shouldered hawk. He was a deep rust color with a dotted black and white tail. His tail feathers looked like a Marimekko pattern, the kind of design they would put on a change purse and you’d bring it home from Finland as a souvenir. The hawk was exquisite, and I was grateful for the chance to view him up close.
Last summer while kayaking at a state park, I drifted in my boat and watched two hawks building their nest atop a pole high above the lake. On a different day, I watched a raccoon scurrying along the edge of the lake and disappearing into a subterranean burrow. Another day while driving home from the trail I frequent, I saw a small red fox crossing the street with a squirrel in his mouth. I consider all of these treasures.
Deer count as treasures, a woodpecker counts as a treasure, a lone red cardinal counts as a treasure. For me, the key to happiness and contentment lies in reorienting my sense of awe away from things like new purchases or expensive experiences, like concerts or ski trips, and pointing it toward free things that I can experience every single day, even in my suburban area.
Sunsets, herons at the lake, a stormy sky- all of these are available for free to anyone who cares to look. If you go outside expecting to find a treasure, you will find one. The trick is recognizing what’s right in front of you.