In plain sight

The quail beneath our manzanita are the color of old leaves and dirt. When I approach they become as still as winter. I pass right by. It's only if I'm about to step on them that they rise off the ground with a whirr. And it's only then that I notice them.

When a quail hides, it doesn't cover up or go down a hole. It stays right where it is. It remains visible. As children, we called it plain sight. One of us would hide a thimble. It had to be hidden in plain sight, not under a table or in a drawer. You had to be able to see it with your eyes from where you were. Then the rest of us would hunt ten or fifteen minutes for the thimble that was always right there.

I haven't played Hide the Thimble for years, but I can't think of how many times I've hunted for my purse or my favorite socks only to find them in plain sight. And though lost items aren't as much fun as the thimble, they do have a way of putting infinity into the most obvious kind of day: adding consciousness as a condition to visibility.

Finding something in plain sight is a special kind of discovery. And the most exciting place to hunt is the most ordinary or the most familiar place. To find a new plant species in the unexplored Amazon is not surprising to me. I am interested, but I expect it. I do not expect fascinating information about the dandelion. Yet such a find increases the possibilities of the known world infinitely with its implications. Its pushes back the old boredom. It widens the pasture. The milk cow lifts her head and turns her nose to the wind.

Finding something in plain sight is the poet's fascination with cliche: to make the same words shed their rote. Or the painter's fascination with still life: giving ordinary objects new rationale.

It was February 18th. We had blue sky and sun but the world was gray below them. Not even the maples were swelling. There were no spring grasses. No wind. I was walking our same hill again and I decided to go home. But turning I saw a tiny flower on ths slope.

Bending down I saw that it was a species of mustard I'd identified before. It would be blooming for the next three months, but I decided to take a picture. The flowers were no more than one-eighth of an inch in diameter on one inch plants, but with extension tubes I magnified one plant to fill the whole frame. I adjusted the light and focus, but just as I was about to push the shutter, a red spider strolled into the frame and looked me in the eye, as convincing as any grizzly bear.

Surprised, out of perspective, I pulled the camera away. Yes. There was the mustard, still in the same position. But where was the spider? My eyes could not find him. I put the camera in position again and the spider was back. I saw that he was spinning a web. A web?

To catch what? Again I sat back amazed. And this spider's world became so wide and unknown it was the universe all over again. The image of the world cracked wide enough to let me in and it grew in harmony to include the silent sun and me: all built and balanced and no moment wide enough to write it all down.

It really wasn't much of a discovery. I know that. There are books that tell about these spiders. And yet that's the danger when exploring in plain sight. I may search for years or just stumble there, only to find that the moment I notice, my discovery transforms into cliche or common sense. It was there all the time.

Still I love the explore the same place again. I have developed an appetite for the moment of realization. Once is not enough. The caterpillar spins his cocoon and I have seen it several times before, but I'm never sure I've seen it all. I have to watch it again for the more accurate metaphor. Again I try very hard. Again I practice the same sonata, phrase by phrase. And soon I smell the wilderness. I prick my ears. This is not the same place after all.

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