The North River mouth, as viewed from above.

In Walden, Thoreau asked “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

While we may never be able to understand, on any deep level, what the world looks like to another person, we can however shift our own view of it by looking through our own eyes in a different way. This might be as simple making a new friend, or just getting to know an older one better. It might involve visiting a new place, or immersing oneself in a different culture. Sometimes a shift in perspective need only occur in the mind. Sometimes we need only change the way we see things.

Last year I attended the Marshfield Fair for the first time in close to a decade. It was a rainy day, and rather than go on many of the rides, I spent my time walking around, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells — row after row of game booths piled high with toys and trinkets, the whir and flash of the Flying Bobs and the Sky Diver, the combined scents of cotton candy, popcorn, manure and dust. There was so much to take in: I could have stayed all day.

But what stuck with me more than anything else were the ten minutes I spent on the Ferris Wheel. A rain storm had sent most of the other fair-goers home for the day, so I had the ride to myself. Perhaps sensing my wishes, the attendant wheeled me around a few times and then parked me at the top to stay.

From that far up, the fair took on a different character. Beyond the bright colors, beyond the lovingly tended 4-H livestock and prize-winning bunches of beets, there were layers and layers of stories. Carny workers who travel the country, lingering a week, maybe two, in one small town after another. Junior high couples — swaggering boys and giggling girls — sneaking off into quiet corners. Families from near and far upholding a tradition that is as much a part of their summer as the beach and the Fourth of July. From the top of the Ferris Wheel, I watched, fascinated, as this temporary yet timeless world circulated beneath my feet.

Just before the attendant pulled the switch to bring me back down, I turned my eyes away from the fair and looked out over the town. From treetop level, in line with the church steeples and far above the roofs of all the buildings around, the town appeared remarkably different — prettier than I remembered, and more orderly. From above, what after years of familiarity I had perceived as the most mundane of landscapes — asphalt and concrete and power lines — now seemed beautiful . . . almost unreal: rolling hills, corridors of green trees, a river threading its way through the middle of it. Only by stepping outside could I see the town for what it really was.

Recently a friend invited me to accompany him on an hour-long scenic flight over the North and South Rivers. I was thrilled to be able to see the South Shore — the place I grew up, the place I have chosen to live — from the air.

Flying at 800 feet in a four-seat Cessna can be noisy, especially if one of the windows is open the entire time. My friend’s job was to take photographs, and to do that well, he was obliged to open the window and lean outside. The headset that the pilot gave me made a difference, but still the combined sounds of engine and wind were enough to prevent me from hearing anything but a constant rush of white noise. With one of my senses closed off, the others grew stronger. I was mesmerized by the view.

It is impossible to offer a description that does any justice to what I saw that day. In this case, the pictures speak volumes more than any words I might put down. The terms “breathtaking” and “spectacular” seem trite; inappropriate.

From the air, the salt marsh looks like thick moss or finely loomed fabric. The web of estuary creeks is more intricate than I ever would have imagined: sprawling, seemingly patternless, yet delicately — sublimely — interconnected. The sand flats near the mouth of the North River, flooded by high tide, make the waters of the inlet appear Caribbean blue. Shapes in the sand glint like seaglass. The ripples on the ocean seem far more uniform than they do from ground level.

All the time and energy that goes into planning a town or a region — zoning guidelines, road design, conservation restrictions — becomes evident from the air. It all fits together. You can see how it works.

For years I have devoted a big chunk of my time to working on behalf of the North and South Rivers. The rivers and their watershed are now so familiar to me that at times I fail to see their beauty. They’ve grown small in my outlook, predictable. I don’t always approach them with the reverence I felt when I was younger.

Even the most interesting landscapes can seem unremarkable when you view them on a daily basis. You just get used to them. The beauty might be lost to you until you change the way you see.

I’ve been feeling some angst with just about every aspect of my life these days — companionship, living space, livelihood, health… . I’ve been searching for fulfillment, expecting that “more” is what I want, that “more” will lead me where I want to go. Viewing the rivers, the salt marsh, the forests, and the town from above has renewed my commitment to the place I live. But what resonates more, and what will stay with me long after my memories of the flight have faded, are these words, offered simply as commentary from my friend that day. “You have to appreciate what you have,” he said, “before you can move forward, before you can get more.”

Sometimes it takes a change of perspective to fully comprehend what we have already. Sometimes we have to see through different eyes in order to appreciate the big picture. Thoreau’s miracle is perhaps impossible to attain, but a shift in our own outlook might be equally significant.

by Kezia Bacon, Special To The Mariner
July 1998

Kezia Bacon’s articles are provided by the North and South Rivers Watershed Association.