I love watching fireflies do their bioluminescence thing. I've just spent several days in Indiana and Kentucky. Fireflies are common there.
They don't exist in Oregon, so far as I know. At least, I've never seen a firefly in my home state.
So when the sun began to set on the day my wife and I arrived at a family get-together in a small town near Bloomington, Indiana, I couldn't take my eyes off of the seemingly randomly blinking yellow flashes of light on a large grassy lawn.
Blink here. Then there. No way to predict where the next flash would be.
My head kept swiveling like the amazed visitor from Oregon that I was. Meanwhile, all of the people who lived in the mid-West -- which was everybody except Laurel and me -- kept on with whatever was occupying them at the moment. Talking. Cooking. Playing.
I wondered, "Why aren't they marveling at the fireflies? They're so magical."
Then the obvious answer came to me: they see them all the time.
Fireflies are nothing special to someone who lives in Indiana. They are to someone who lives in Oregon. My eyes and mind are pretty much the same as my relatives'. Still, the sight that struck me as so marvelous appears to them as mundane, hardly worth noticing.
In 1971 I moved to Portland, Oregon from San Jose, California. I'd just graduated with a B.A. in psychology from San Jose State. Having been admitted to Portland State's M.S.W. (Master's in Social Work) program, my wife and I had found an apartment in the suburb of Raleigh Hills.
Every morning school was in session I'd take a Tri-Met bus to downtown Portland, where Portland State University is located. I'd be blown away by the sight of snow-capped Mt. Hood towering in the distance, with the Willamette River flowing by at the base of the West Hills.
I'd try to get a window seat on the right side of the bus for better viewing. Man, I'm not in San Jose anymore, and I'm so glad! would echo in my newly Oregonized psyche.
Meanwhile, most of my fellow bus passengers would have their heads buried in the Oregonian newspaper or some other reading material. I couldn't understand why they weren't gazing at Mt. Hood with the same awe I was feeling.
Well, a few weeks or months later I was doing the exact same thing. I'd read the paper on my trip downtown. Mt. Hood had become for me what fireflies are to our Indiana relatives: a barely-noticed aspect of daily existence.
Which reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about street life in India.
I've been to India twice, on fairly brief visits. My friend had spent quite a bit more time there. I was talking with him about the astounding parade of flower-bedecked trucks, cows, elephants, beggars, monkeys, vendors selling all kinds of exotic stuff, and what-not that I'd seen.
"How do people in India manage to carry on with their everyday life?" I asked him. "There's so much to see, such bewildering richness on every street corner."
He looked at me as if I'd posed an incredibly stupid question. Of course, I had.
My friend said, "Because that's what they experience every day. If an Indian came to our country and saw empty sidewalks bordering strip malls along streets filled with single occupant cars, that would look exotic to them."
Strangeness grabs our attention. When it becomes familiar, the very same sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and sensations lose much of their attractiveness.
Yet everything remains the same. It is we who have changed, our mental outlook. This leads us to seek out new sights, fresh vistas, novel experiences to replace the now-ho-hum old ones.
I don't have an answer for this dilemma. (Assuming it is a fixable problem to be solved, rather than an inescapable part of life.)
Mindfulness holds promise for seeing the old as new again. So do mind-altering drugs, like marijuana. With Oregon having legalized the recreational consumption of cannabis, I've found that pot helps revive the Wow! sensation of everyday existence that children have. Along with visitors to unfamiliar lands.
Like Indiana, if you're from Oregon and haven't seen fireflies. Or Oregon, if you're from Indiana and haven't seen Mt. Hood.
Probably it isn't desirable for us to see everything always as if for the first time. That way likely leads to mental incapacity, if not psychosis. I need to be able to remember that I've driven my car before, in order to drive it competently again.
But still... I aspire to experiencing the delight of the unfamiliar without having to leave my familiar surroundings.
There are several versions of a Marcel Proust quotation. I like all three of these, though only the last apparently is what Proust actually said.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights, but in looking with new eyes.
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is.