I have never seen a muskrat before, and I was not expecting to see one when I wandered down for a walk by the river the other day. I thought I might see the mallard ducks that can usually be found just north of the park, no matter how cold the weather, and I hoped to see some winter birds, some nuthatches, or grosbeaks, or chickadees, or cardinals, but I had no thought whatsoever for muskrats. As I was taking some photographs of the mallards, however, I saw that they were circling and feeding around a disturbance in the water, and the disturbance soon revealed itself to be a muskrat that pulled itself onto the far shore and began grooming itself as the mallards kept feeding where its foraging had disturbed the river bottom. I took a few photographs and then tried to get a little closer, but the river was too wide to get a really good shot, and the ice was not as thick as I thought, so I only ended up getting my one leg wet up past the knee.
Now, a muskrat is only a muskrat, granted. It is not exactly rare as wildlife goes, certainly not if one can be found on the Speed River in the middle of Guelph. Even so, I was struck by the sensation of newness as I was walking back, the feeling that I often have when I encounter something for the first time, and I reflected on the curiously wonderful fact that I could still have this experience so close to my own door, that I could still walk down the road such a little ways and find something that I had never found before.
As I was thinking these things, it occurred to me that the key to this experience of discovery is a certain willingness to look and to see. I have said something like this any number of times before, and I know that I am repeating myself, but I think this fact is unavoidable: We must go looking in order to find. It is not that I went looking for muskrats. It is that I went looking for something, for mallards, and for some song birds, and for the river itself, and this looking was surprised by something that it did not expect. I found something new, not because I went looking for it, but because I went looking, pure and simple, and so I was able to find something, even and especially something I did not expect.