Scientists and philosophers have struggled for years to define our relation to reality, or even to decide what “reality” might be. The rest of us mostly muddle through the daily experience of our existence. For a writer, perceptions of reality are also important, as it’s easier to write about what we have perceived than what we have persuaded ourselves to imagine.
It’s hard to imagine that some authors are not born with an innate advantage in this regard, and the examples come easily to mind: Louis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkein, J.K. Rowling, and all the rest. But perhaps that’s only part of the picture. As has often been observied by others before, it’s not just about the mental eyes that you’re born with, but also whether you allow yourself to fully use what you have.
I was reminded of that truth this morning when my wife and I took an early morning walk along the boardwalk that threads through Corkscrew Swamp, a wonderful, 13,000 acre Audubon sanctuary in southwest Florida that preserves the last remaining stand of mature Bald Cypress in the world.
It’s an astonishingly beautiful and unworldly place, as you can see here – the kind of secret haven where one could imagine everyday wildlife morphing effortlessly into mythical beasts without their, or your, noticing the transformation.
Or at least I realize this now. During our walk, I was being more analytical, looking for flora and fauna I’d never noticed before rather than absorbing the mystery of the hush, punctuated only by insect and bird sounds, or luxuriating in the beams of light that streamed through the spaces between the trees before revealing secret channels amid the still, clear water pooling everywhere around us.
My aloofness to the otherness of the scene struck home when an orange butterfly, sparkling through those same shafts of light, tumbled by, making it’s delicate, erratic course through the gently moving air.
Recalling how incredibly the same creatures make their way through even gusty winds, regardless of their insubstantiality, I observed that a butterfly was a completely improbable creature. My wife, however, said to her they provided an example of magical reality.
I had to admit that she had the better of me with that reflection. For the rest of our amble through the dimly lit forest, now silent but for the faint whisper of this year’s dying cypress needles filtering down from above, I tried to experience the balance of our visit through her eyes rather than my own.