Looking and Not Seeing

Dave Humphrey has written on the idea of seeing several times, and it is a topic that comes up frequently in our conversation, so I thought that I would share with him, and with all of you as well, a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s True at First Light that speaks very directly to the nature of seeing and does so in relation to birds, which is another subject of great significance to Dave.

The passage begins with Hemingway describing how he has been so focused on tracking the big game that he has failed really to notice the local birds in the way that his wife has.  He says, “I realized I had only paid attention to the predators, the scavengers, and the birds that were good to eat and the birds that had to do with hunting.  Then as I thought of which birds I did notice there came such a great long list of them that I did not feel quite as bad but I resolved to watch the birds around our camp more and to ask Mary all about the ones I did not know, and most of all, to really see them and not look past them.”  This is a nice passage all in itself, with its exhortation really to see and not look past things, but he then goes on to say, “This looking and not seeing things is a great sin.”

This phrase, I think, sums up very nicely what Dave has described in his own writing on the act of seeing, and I think that Dave would agree with his next comment as well, that “we do not deserve to live in the world if we do not see it.”

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