One of the great pleasures of sitting in Central Park’s sublime Conservatory Garden is watching the light move across leaves, blossoms, trees in ways alternately wild and subtle. Every visit surprises me. But I was truly stunned recently when the morning light slanted across the leaves in the low shrubs across from me to reveal glittering spider webs woven throughout: an intricate network of homes carefully, miraculously forged. This fleeting illumination made me suddenly aware of the many layers the life going on all around me.
It reminded me of a perfect passage from H is for Hawk, Helen McDonald’s remarkable account of her time spent grappling with numbing grief by training a fierce goshawk, as she finds her way back into her life. She stands in a field lit by the sinking sun and tries to see what her friend is pointing to.
‘Look!’ he says. ‘Look at that!’
‘What?’ I say, turning and shading my eyes. ‘I can’t see anything.’
‘Look towards the sun.’
Then I see it. The bare field we’d flown the hawk upon is covered in gossamer, millions of shining threads combed downwind across every inch of soil. Lit by the sinking sun the quivering silk runs like light on water all the way to my feet…
It is a thing of unearthly beauty, the work of a million tiny spiders searching for new homes. Each had spun a charged silken thread out into the air to pull it from its hatch-place, ascending like an intrepid hot-air balloonist to drift and disperse and fall. I stare at the field for a long time.
Catching the sun at just the right angle, filaments of spider webs suddenly became visible. But it was the call to awareness, to SEE, that made her suddenly discover the miracle that her friend was looking at.
Anyone can learn to see. It takes slowing down, making a space in the day, however small, where you don’t have to get anywhere. And there is a mindset that helps too: open, remembering that there are treasures hidden everywhere, you just have to find them. I once saw it expressed perfectly in a scrawl of graffiti:
Expect miracles every day.
It can be akin to a kind of X-ray vision. You remind yourself to LOOK and start noticing things hidden in plain sight.
On a busy walkway outside the Conservatory Garden one evening, I saw something glint in the foliage. Half hidden behind a bush was a record player…
On the turntable was a 33 rpm record: “Relaxin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet”. It was not a random discard, but a carefully placed object: A kind of mysterious art-gift that, in disrupting the norm, carried a strange and unexpected joy.
I was tempted to view the album’s songs as possible messages like
It could happen to you….