Through new eyes

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111401648316081.jpg’, ‘Photo by Dr. Robert A. Hedeen’, ‘I gained "new eyes" through those of my zoology students on a field trip.’);

From time to time, those of us who have been around for a few years tend to take for granted some of the important things in life. When we see the forest and not the trees, when the sight of a deer bounding across a fog-draped meadow fails to evoke a rush of adrenaline, or the thrill of anticipating what’s around the next bend of the river is abated, it is time for us to take a look at things through a set of new eyes

I can remember many years ago, as a boy, I served as the new eyes for an individual, when, on the Brazos River in north Texas, I cast an artificial lure at a rising largemouth bass for the first time. The old gentleman who had taken me out that day and had taught me how to thumb a bait casting reel, thus preventing a backlash, had caught hundreds of bass on artificial lures, but he almost jumped with joy when the fish struck my bait. He gently removed the treble hook from the fish’s mouth when I finally brought my prize to the boat, and I noticed his hands were slightly trembling. I sensed he was oblivious to my presence.

It was as if he had been taken back in time — to a different era and place when he had taken his first bass and was reliving the experience. Since then, I have given new eyes to many others as they passed on their knowledge of the outdoor world to me.

Fortunately, I have had new eyes available to rejuvenate me through most of my varied career. First, there were my three sons, who were a constant source of new vision as I introduced them to the marvels of the natural world. The importance of knowing how to set up a campsite, paddle a canoe, or identify a bird or insect is reconfirmed when we do it for someone who sees it or learns it for the first time.

One of the great rewards of university teaching is that you always have a constant supply of new eyes. Captive eyes, initially perhaps, but they become enthusiastic as previously unrelated pieces of the puzzle come together to form an understandable whole. One event I always anticipated in the advanced invertebrate zoology class I taught was the day-long field trip to a beach where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Delaware River, and where we would study the diversity of marine life.

A 30 foot seine was used to collect specimens inhabiting the shallow water and had to be manipulated by two student volunteers. The collecting device was to be dragged from about 50 feet offshore onto the beach, and initially it was difficult to secure the first two workers. Eventually, however, two students would agree to perform the chore. When the net was hauled onto the beach and the myriads of species caught were revealed, gasps of surprise and delight filled the air. Though I knew approximately what the seine would collect, my zeal at rediscovering the diversity of the marine environment always matched those of the students, who were witnessing this natural phenomenon for the first time. (After the initial collecting sweep with the seine, there was never a problem securing the labor for additional samplings; cries of “it’s my turn now” were the order of the day.)

Today, I mainly get my new eyes from my grandchildren, though the girls are not into the “creepy-crawly” things as deeply as the boys. I go through the emotion of rediscovery when one grandson calls to tell me he has added 25 new specimens to his insect collection and another one informs me he has used his collection, of pickled fish for a “show and tell” session in his school. I am as thrilled as when I first did these things myself.

There is an old adage that says, “If you want to keep it, you have to share it with others.” At almost any stage in one’s life, he or she can provide eyes for others — to open doors, as if by magic, that the neophyte did not know existed. And, we are rewarded with the pleasure of seeing and delighting in again the things that are most important to us. Who could want more?

Dr. Robert Hedeen is a former resident of Maryland’s eastern shore and resided in the Chicago area from 1960 to 1971. He is a retired professor emeritus of biological sciences in the University of Maryland system. He has published more than 30 scientific papers, has written numerous magazine articles, and is the author of two books on the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay.

From the April 20-26, 2005 issue

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