Seeing

(10.22.17) Seeing 1

I am legally blind in one eye, the result of a severe astigmatism. In some babies born with amblyopia, the lazy eye also wanders, but my trouble was not caused by a visible misalignment, so no one knew I was seeing with only one eye. The way to improve a lazy eye is to patch the dominant eye, but the window for correction is small. By the time I finally went to an ophthalmologist, I was nearly thirty years old—decades past the age when a patch would do any good.

Because the part of the brain that develops in conjunction with the eyes did not receive sufficient input during those early years, I still see mainly through one eye and always imperfectly, even with glasses. I was born into a strong family history of blindness—glaucoma, macular degeneration, intraocular hemorrhage—and I take no day with vision for granted. I am filled with gratitude for the sight I have.

Still, I can’t help but wish I could see just a little better. This is the time of the fall songbird migration, but I have only rarely seen the tiny traveling warblers. Binoculars are of limited help when the brain doesn’t develop in a way that produces binocular vision—although if someone says to me, “Look!” and points in the right direction, binoculars can give me a good idea of what’s there. To see tiny creatures truly, I rely on a camera with a zoom lens, and even then I have to upload the images to my computer and look at them on a larger screen to know for sure what I’ve photographed.

One of the nicest things about walking the trail I often take around a nearby lake is that there is always someone on the trail saying, “Look!” Thanks to that natural human inclination to share something wonderful, even with a stranger, I have learned this terrain well over the years and know where to look for the well-disguised secrets I would inevitably miss on an unfamiliar trail. I know to look for a barred owl who frequently perches in a dead tree near a particular bridge. I know that a great blue heron often stands as still as glass on a submerged log in one little cove of the lake. I know the rise where wild turkeys can usually be found, dragging their wing feathers on the ground and blending in with the leaf litter, and I know the bank where beavers climb soundlessly out of the lake. Last summer I knew where to look for a hidden hummingbird’s nest because of a stranger with better eyes than mine.

I also know where to look for the elusive piebald fawn who was born in these woods last spring, but knowing where to look is not the same thing as seeing what you’re looking for. My niece was visiting this weekend, and as we were walking around the lake together yesterday I mentioned that I’d long been hoping to see this white fawn. Half a minute later, she said, “Look! There it is!” And there the little fawn surely was, coming over a hill through the trees, her mother and twin right beside her.

I didn’t have my camera with me yesterday, and the pictures I managed to snap with my phone are pitiful, but that fawn was a sight to behold, glowing ethereal among the shadows of the trees, picking her way along the deer path that winds behind the faded seedheads of white snakeroot growing nearly as tall as she is. At one spot, following her mother, she apparently encountered an obstacle too large to step over and took a sudden leap into the air. For an instant she was airborne, her delicate hooves flashing in the late-afternoon light. If I’d had a camera, and if I’d clicked the shutter at just that moment, she would have looked as though she were taking flight.

The trail was busy yesterday—the trail is always busy on weekend afternoons in pretty weather—and all around us people were saying to each other, “Look!” and stopping to watch the little fawn walking along the deer path that runs parallel to the human path and also parallel to the lakeshore. Parents were picking up their children and holding them high: “Look!”

Farther down the trail, my beautiful niece, whose eyes see 20-20 even without glasses, paused before a fallen tree covered with shelf fungi. She pointed to a tiny ladybug nearly hidden in the folds. “When I was hiking in Colorado last week, I saw a whole bunch of them gathered together in one place, so I checked Google to see if there’s a name for a group of ladybugs,” she said. “It’s called a loveliness.”

(10.22.17) Seeing 2
Photo by Harriett Lee