When driving, as a matter of common sense, we focus our view straight ahead, or sideways, or at the rearview mirror to see behind us, but seldom upward. When walking, we tend to look down or to the front, rarely up.
I walk more than I drive. Were I to take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London (downtown London, Ontario, where I live), I would direct your gaze upward to the 19th- and early-20th century architecture atop the modernized storefronts and restaurants. I would urge you to note the structural shapes and solidity of balustrades, cornices, friezes, and so on, to see what our citizens usually don't see, because we don't look up.
But closer to home, on my regular walks to a shopping mall a short distance removed from this city's core, I didn't notice "Amanda's Place" for a while, because I didn't look up. I can't recall what finally drew my attention to it, possibly the sound of an airplane in the sky above, or the harsh screech of an annoyed blue jay, but there, perched in a sturdy tree alongside a residence, stood a little gem of construction in pseudo-Victorian style.
When I first noticed it, partly hidden by summer's lush foliage, the tree house had been structurally completed, with door and windows skillfully positioned. A hand-made sign nailed to the tree beneath it announced its ownership.
Over the weeks and months that followed, I made a special point of looking up at the tree house on my way to and from the shopping mall. Curtains appeared in the small windows, and there seemed to be lights in the windows at dusk. Items of exterior decoration were added from time to time, so that the little house became increasingly attractive and interesting to look at. A clever, intricate arrangement of wooden steps up the side of the tree took shape. In its way, Amanda's Place became something magical.
Summer passed, and as fall crept in to replace it, tree leaves began to turn yellow and tawny, eventually to explode in showers of red and gold and scatter like toasted wafers. Amanda's Place, up there amid undisguised branches, took on an enhanced presence as more and more of its architecture was revealed.
Then came last year's Christmas season. One day on my walk to the mall, I glanced up to see a large, full-bodied Santa Claus standing up in the tree outside the appropriately decorated Amanda's Place.
More likely than not, few citizens, even those in the immediate neighborhood, have any idea that Amanda's Place exists. They seldom find a reason to look up. In this instance, they have missed seeing a little girl's special source of comfort and joy; they have deprived themselves of a warm smile.
So many of us feel so driven to keep pace with rapidly changing events and conditions in our daily lives, and to do this we focus attention on what we see as being essential to our survival. We try to assure ourselves of the soundness of our footing and underpinnings; we try to set and maintain speed in a forward direction; we block out anything we regard as distracting and superfluous as we press on to what looks like a demanding but uncertain future.
Surely, though, some distractions and some superfluity, if they break monotony and lighten the load, can help us along the way. My trekking up to the shopping mall is not exactly demanding, but it has often been monotonous. Now I have something to distract me in the nicest of ways.
As I cross a main east-west thoroughfare and proceed northward, I can glance up in the happy expectation that, as winter fades and spring returns, I'll see Amanda's Place garlanded with a new growth of resplendent greenery.
I may even catch sight of Amanda herself, who, to my knowledge, I have never seen, up the tree or down.