Attentiveness and Context

One of the great dichotomies is that of big space and small space. The Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge explores this in his book Silence in the Age of Noise. In his solo crossing of Antarctica, the talks about the absolute silence of the place. He saw nothing living for 50 days. This brought him a great perspective on his surroundings and notes how the landscape which initially seemed flat and white became, with time, varied in color and shape. He comments that,


Back home I only enjoyed big bites. Down here [Antarctica] I am learning to value minuscule joys. The nuanced hues of the snow. The wind abating. Formations of clouds. Silence. 


This reminds me of my recent experience in the Ozarks. K and I had a little cabin in the woods. In order to get to the cabin, we had to cross a small wash in our sedan. That first night, it rained so heavily the next day we could not cross the wash. We were “stuck” on the three-acre property.

At various points during that “stuck” day, we took short hikes around the property to stretch the legs. The high was in the low 40s and damp so we didn’t stay out too long, but while we did hike around, we crossed much of the same area more than once. Since we had such a small space to hike, we were very attentive to what was around us, looking at the moss and lichen on the trees and rocks, the way water flowed over and around stones, so many wondrous details.

The next day we were able to get off property and went for a 4-mile hike to a waterfall. The hike was wonderful, the forest beautiful opening up to us as we walked the valley between hills.


Once we returned to the cabin, I realized I had not noticed the details of the woods as much as I had when we were “stuck” on property. There was more available to see as we hiked about the forest, and though I did take note of the small mosses, mushrooms and bracket fungus, I certainly did not to the degree that I did the previous day. I took it all in as a much larger picture. This is, of course, because the fishbowl was much larger.


I am not sure which is more preferable. I am not sure a choice needs to be made. Perhaps the point is that it is important to acknowledge the impact of context and circumstance on perspective. This is not only true of nature but of human relationships also.

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