By SARAH HATFIELD
For Jamestown Audubon
Perspective. It is often what gives an excellent image the edge in a photo contest. It is a way to solve a problem, bridge a gap, or accept a difference. It gives rise to hindsight. Or it simply gives you a different way to see the world. Perspective is about seeing and understanding, it is about relationships and outlooks.
Aerial view of Audubon
Perspective can be changed by lying on the ground, standing on a ladder, imagining yourself in someone else's shoes, or just by getting older. From a frog's perspective the world is much different than from a heron's perspective. The perspective of people standing right next to each other, looking at the same scene, can be different. There is an element of beauty in that.
In programs, I ask children to become other things, to place themselves under the ground as a sleeping seed, or perch on their chairs as squirrels. This action, of mentally removing themselves from a physical place and placing themselves within a world of fantasy, is easy for them. They adjust, empathize and understand. From a tree's perspective they see the hardships of acquiring sun, nutrients and water. Huddled together they view the world of muskrats in winter. Silent on the floor, they wiggle their toes-turned-roots to slurp up their first drink of water as a germinating seed.
Germinating perspective is my goal. As adults, we are fond of saying things like "from my point of view" and "from my perspective." Yet we rarely take the time to see the whole picture and other points of view. The importance of clean water becomes much more evident when you're a plant. The value of a swamp is clear as a muskrat huddling inside a cattail hut for the winter. To get a complete picture, to lay out the entire vista in working form, takes multiple perspectives.
The warbler says: the world is lush, soft spring leaves, unfurling and dancing in the wind. It is filled with treasure, hidden caterpillars under branches, newly emerged insects, and moss to build nests.
The caterpillar says: the world is a dangerous place, filled with predators and weather that can kill you at any second. Soft, spring leaves are delicious, but with every bite you place yourself in the hands of capricious Nature.
The tree says: the world is a system, rain falls from the sky, pattering through my leaves. It trickles through the furrows of my bark and into the ground, where my roots and those of others bring it back toward the sky, releasing what I don't need into the air to form tomorrow's raindrops.
None of the perspectives is complete. None tell the whole story or paint the full picture. There is richness in diversity, of different points of view, that ends in a synergistic effect the final assembly being so much greater than any one perspective could have created. Without varying points of view, the world is flat, incomplete.
I concede that many perspectives makes things inherently more complicated. It wraps stories together and tangles life into a web of relationships. Yet I still believe that we are richer for the complexity.
I can look at a lichen growing on the side of a tree and see just a lichen. Or I can see a partnership between a fungus and algae or bacteria. Deeper, I can see the materials for a bird's nest, a snail's refuge, and a snack for a flying squirrel. Farther even I understand that the lichen on the tree captures water and releases it slowly for life to use. Thus, a perspective forms: that all life is valuable, that things have a purpose, that in such a complex world each part has a role to play.
Your perspective on the environment may differ from mine. My perspective on sustainability may differ from yours. Yet whether it is mosquitoes or global climate change, photography or politics, differing perspectives give a truer picture of what exists. I may see a world you can't even imagine, and your perspective on the world may break my heart. But I'll listen, and learn, and try to understand because in that I can get closer to understanding and seeing what really is.
For those of you keeping track, another birthday lies around the corner, lending, if nothing else, another year's perspective. Between the strategic planning at Audubon and some significant changes away from work, my view has certainly broadened. I understand more, I see more. Hand in hand with that I mourn more and learn more. I see a world with such potential, with a cast of characters that have power and passion.
From Audubon's grounds to the atmosphere, there are things to be done so as to examine life and its support system from a different perspective. Be a frog, be a tree see the world as they do, understand better who they are. Converse with someone who doesn't agree with you, try to stand in their shoes. Bridge a gap, accept a difference, build a relationship. Find perspective. It will change you.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn until dusk and the Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. Visit jamestownaudubon.org for more information or call (716) 569-2345. Don't forget about Snowflake Festival on February 4!
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon.