I Saw This Today
A few years ago, I started posting a photo each day on Instagram. I wasn’t trying to be a social media influencer or anything; I just liked the simplicity of editing photos on that site, so each image I captured could shine just a little more. The first year I did it, it was called “A Year Outside,” and every photo, obviously, was taken outdoors. I’ve continued it for several years, and now I call it simply “I Saw This Today” (#isawthistoday). I think a whole 20 or 30 people I know "like" my photos every day, and it’s a fun way to give myself a little break from work and home responsibilities, political headlines, and the stresses of COVID-19.
But what I’ve discovered in these several years since the first photo, taken on a cold New Year’s Day at the Cosumnes River Preserve, is how much I’ve learned beyond how to use the Contrast filter. For one thing, it’s reminded me how much I like having a fun thing on my docket each day. I don’t feel as good after a day full of work and chores as I do when I’ve spent at least a little bit of time being outside or making something. Days when I create something are like days with donuts—without the calories.
I’ve also learned a little bit about seeing. Especially in the pandemic, I don’t actually look at a lot of new things. My runs take me on the same paths, and my weekly drives to the grocery store are monotonous. My evenings eating dinner and binge-watching Netflix shows are hard to distinguish from each other. In the face of sameness, I get complacent. But if I have to stop and look more closely, wherever I am, there is much more to see there than I realized. And, it makes me slightly more alert. Last week, I noticed a "Tiny House" in a driveway a couple of streets from our house. Although I was excited about my "discovery," Jodi said it's been there at least a year. Clearly, I need reminders to open my eyes more frequently. Even early in the morning, when it’s barely dawn, if I remember to really look as the sun comes up, I’ll see a new angle of light on the trees, or a bit of fog coming off the water in the canal. Looking for a photo to take serves as a perfect prompt to be where I am and to really see what's there.
It also brings me, almost literally, back to earth, to what's important.
Sometimes, on a particularly desk-heavy day, I’ll forget about taking a photo. On some days before the pandemic, I wouldn't think of it until I was walking out to my car at 5 p.m., leaving me with the feeling that I was mostly spending my days in work conversations or staring at a computer screen. And then—mid-lament—I would look up to see a late-afternoon ray of sun reflecting on the windows of the library, or a gaggle of geese flying in a perfect V-formation as they headed toward the river. I frequently wondered if maybe this is just when I was supposed to look up, to remember what’s important and to give my brain some balance.
These days, while most of my time is spent inside my house, I still sometimes forget my project. It’s easy to snap a cute photo of dogs sleeping, because this seems to be their reason to live. But if I have the energy, I’ll go outside for a few minutes near the end of the day with my eyes wide open. I’ll walk down the canal path a few minutes and see the setting sun’s reflection on the water, or the long shadows of the redwood trees. It gets the job done, for sure, but it also brings me, almost literally, back to earth, to what's important. I’ll smile to myself on my walk back to the house. In the orange glow of the sunset, I remember that what began as a little photo project turned out to be a gentle, daily practice in paying attention.
And that’s what I love most about it. It reminds me that seeing and being in the moment are as important as any work I can imagine. In fact, my ability to be present is ultimately what allows me to do everything else. It also keeps me focused on the world that's right in front of me, day after day—the world I often take for granted. It’s sad in a way that I need a reminder to look up and notice this daily show that’s going on without me. But, I also feel lucky to have learned this lesson—particularly in this challenging year. I’ve thought of expanding my observations to include my other senses, as well—to create a new food, play music, or write a lovely line of prose. But for now, I’ll keep remembering to look for what fits into that little photographic frame—a chance to stop and pay attention to the smallest moment.