I have always been an avid nature watcher, and I feel fortunate to have developed a sort of sixth sense about the world around me.
I don't think I am alone in having this ability, but it does take a special awareness to capture moments and images that only nature can provide. I may be wrong, but it seems that too many folks simply stumble through life, never once taking a look -- a close look, anyway -- at the incredible result of millions of years of evolution.
Like anything, it takes practice to develop this sense. A good example might be people who have lost their sight or hearing and how they have learned to fine-tune other senses that the rest of us take for granted. I believe that same heightened awareness happens to those who have spent much of their life on the water or in the woods. Their senses become fine-tuned, allowing them to see things the average person might not see and hear things only a practiced ear can hear.
Almost weekly I receive emails from readers who ask me where to do this or how to do that and, unfortunately, I don't know how to reply to some of these questions. Like I mentioned, it simply takes practice.
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One thing I have noticed is some people have it and some simply don't. So much of being in nature and getting the most from it is letting your primal instincts take over. No matter where you come from or what your upbringing might have been, I believe every person has this primal instinct hidden deep inside. It may not be anywhere near the surface, but thousands of years of evolution has ingrained it in every one of us, whether we know it or not. The secret is to let it take over -- you will be amazed at what is around you that you never chose to see before.
Whether you grew up here in the Lowcountry or are a transplant from lord knows where, this area is ripe with some of nature's finest creations. The neatest aspect of these creations is you don't have to travel far to find them.
A perfect example of this struck me as I was walking through my neighborhood recently. An owl came screaming 10 feet over my head and lit on a nearby tree limb. What a creation. He and I had a staring contest, and I have to give it to him, he beat me hands down when he pulled his "Exorcist" trick and turned his head a full 180 degrees. Now, how could I compete with that?
After he took off, I looked at where he had been sitting on this old oak branch and noticed the shriveled up remnants of resurrection ferns that covered its length. Somewhat of a fern freak, I have never gotten over how cool they are. When we have periods with no rain, they appear to die. Curled up, brown and brittle, but all it takes is one good rain and, like magic, they live up to their name and flourish in a matter of minutes. Just think how long it took for these ferns to evolve in such a way? It blows my mind.
Speaking of ferns, my pride and joy is my fern garden in front of my house that unfortunately took a beating during that last cold snap. I know they will come back, but for eight years I wandered through the woods collecting different kinds of ferns for that garden. Nearly every person who walks by when they are lush from summer rains asks me where I got them. They are right under your nose, if you simply look.
I have a giant pileated woodpecker that has been with me for three years tearing down rotting trees piece by piece. I have a bevvy of cardinals that actually wait on me to give them a bath with the hose every afternoon. Then, when spring arrives, a Mississippi kite uses my neighborhood as home base. I even have painted buntings that return year after year. Now, there is a true marvel of nature.
The beauty of nature is all around you if you let yourself see it. From a wisteria vine 6 feet around in my yard to a tree frog that answers my turkey call every time, there is amusement and wonderment to be had when you allow yourself to become a part of the natural world instead of the manmade world.
So the next time you wonder what to do, take a walk and look -- really look. Look up, look down and train your eyes to see. Train your ears to hear, and a whole new world will reveal itself. Once you have found the secret that lies within you, things will never be the same again.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.