Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles in all stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
I took the kids for a hike in the woods on Friday—it was our third time on that particular trail in two weeks, and something I hope to keep up throughout the school year. Everybody had a notebook and pencil, along with instructions to write down whatever they noticed. We could have stayed out there for hours. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time (when is there?) and we had to get home to host a slumber party, but while we were there they couldn’t stop observing. It turns out I couldn’t, either.
I’m not sure it ever struck me quite the same way before, but it seemed like everything I saw was spotted, dotted or striated, everything all about variation. Striped acorns, speckled leaves, layers of sound (wind over birds over crickets and frogs.) Everything was intricate detail, nothing solid, nothing repeated quite the same way twice.
When I was a grad student and playing with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago we had regular coaching sessions with the principal players of the Chicago Symphony. One session that particularly stands out was when one of them addressed the fact that there are a lot of unhappy orchestral musicians out there—bored, unsatisfied people who have been playing the same standard repertoire for years. He, on the other hand, told us he loved his job. There’s no excuse, he told us. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve played a piece; if you don’t discover something new each time, it’s because you aren’t paying attention.
What a thought—that there’s always more there to discover. That there are layers and layers of detail waiting to be noticed, whether I am engaging with a work of art, or a forest, or a person. If I’m looking, there’s always something new.