"Live frugally on surprise," said Alice Walker, in one of my favorite poems. Today I went out looking for a little peace and found some on the Plum Island dunes:
But I found something else -- one of those moments of connection, of Wow! as I stood just a short walk away from a sleeping barred owl. I had never seen one before and it is a real presence in the woods.
The picture doesn't do the moment justice as I had come unprepared for this surprise and had to rely on the limitations of an Iphone camera. But the primary importance of this moment was not the recording of it but the feelings of wonder and awe it generated. Those terms were fresh in my head from reading an article in Orion by Christopher Norment, who teaches Environmental Science at SUNY Brockport and feels the most important element of his students' education is that they somehow experience a sense of wonder in their interactions with nature.
And that sense of wonder was certainly there a couple of weeks ago in a Massachusetts Audubon class I was taking as I held a just-banded blue jay in my hand until it decided to seize its freedom and fly.
But wonder and awe aren't just for nature. I have felt them strongly as I stand before a piece of art that makes me see just a little deeper or a little more clearly. I once thought that this should be a goal to strive for in my own work, but then I realized that, just as setting out to experience wonder is a fool's errand, so it is to try to create it.
So I return to living frugally on surprise and know that when it happens, it has been a good day.