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A different way of seeing

Published August 09. 2014 09:00AM

A long time ago I signed up for a painting class after the instructor promised me she could teach anyone to paint.

In school, I was never good at art and can't even draw a good circle. The instructor said it didn't matter. She said we would learn painting by doing oils because oils were forgiving.

For our painting class, the instructor placed a vase and still life scene on the table, telling us to paint it.

When my vase was so lopsided it was hard to tell if it was round or square, she said it was no problem. Just use my brush to make the other side round.

I tried, over and over. When it was time for our weekly classes to end, my vase was still round on one side and square on the other. Every time I worked on it I made it worse.

The instructor said she would have to amend her boast that she could teach anyone to paint. Now, she has to say, "almost anyone," she told me with a look on her face that didn't quite hide her scorn.

I believe no experience is a waste, and that was true of my painting lessons. While I didn't learn to paint, I learned something more important: I learned a new way of seeing.

Before those painting classes, I thought all trees were brown on the bottom. Shows you how I never paid attention.

When I learned to really look at trees, I noticed no tree is all one color. Browns, blacks and shades of gray can all be part of one tree trunk.

I learned, too, that even something as simple as a blade of grass changes color depending on how the light hits it.

Through those art classes, I learned to see detail in color, texture and lighting. In other words, I learned to see differently.

Photography also teaches us to see the world differently. When I have a camera in my hand I am more attuned to the wonders of nature, especially when I use a telephoto lens.

The other week in the middle of a hot afternoon I went to a wilderness park with my camera. Well, the birds and other wildlife were smarter than I was. They knew enough to hide somewhere and take a nap during the heat of the day.

Finally, I saw a turtle. Usually turtles aren't that exciting to photograph. But after I put my telephone lens on the camera and laid down in the grass for a low-level shot, extreme magnification turned the ordinary into a special shot.

With a camera in my hands, I find beauty I would miss without it. I find beauty in the gnarled roots of a banyan tree and in the ruins of an old barn.

A camera makes you look for interesting sights. It compels you to look high in the treetops and low on the ground for things to photograph.

I see blue herons and pelicans on a regular basis and always enjoy seeing them. But when I have a camera I appreciate them more because I see detail, such as the way a breeze fluffs a bird's feathers.

A camera also takes you outside yourself, meaning you forget about you while you are concentrating on subject matter.

I did a story on a noted artist who works with battered women in a women's shelter. By giving each woman a camera and teaching them to look for beauty in their surroundings, she said she helps them heal. A camera teaches them the world has beauty waiting to be noticed.

Riding a bike can also help us see the world differently. It allows you to notice much more than you do when riding in a car.

When I needed to buy a new mailbox for in front of my house, I rode my bike through our development to see what others were doing for big mailboxes.

In a car, when I'm paying attention to the road, I would never notice individual mailboxes. Now, I'm riding my bike through other neighborhoods looking at colors of homes. I'm trying to pick a new color to have my house painted, and my bike treks are helping me to narrow down what I like.

Bikes are also helping the sheriff's department in our county see more.

The four policemen assigned to the bike brigade said they can spot things patrol cars miss. In one community they were able to see that squatters were using homes that were supposed to be vacant.

"If we didn't leisurely ride by on our bikes, we would have missed the activity," one officer told me.

While riding bikes helps them see more, it also means criminals don't notice them. "Everyone can see a squad car coming, and they can hide. But they don't think someone on a bike is law enforcement," he said.

I put a kayak in the category of things that help you see more.

I absolutely love motorboats. The faster the ride, the better. But I've found that in a kayak I see the natural world in a way I never could while speeding by.

A kayak can take a nature lover like me to shallow mangroves teeming with wildlife. Because it doesn't have a motor, it doesn't scare off the birds.

The more we notice, the more we can appreciate our world. And anything that helps us see more can only increase that appreciation.

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