Looking with Purpose
Southern California nature is filled to the brim with beautiful and gentle life. I encourage you to take advantage of this kind wilderness and go explore. The more time you spend outside, the more amazing things you will see.
I witnessed a shadow emerge from the darkness in silence and wing past my face. It was dusk, and a light dew had begun to settle on everything in sight. The first crisp feeling of nighttime coolness bit my nose and ears and I was relieved to see the hundred degrees of daytime fade away. Instinctually, my pupils widened and my breathing slowed as I turned to see what was flying in front of me. My vision adjusted to the darkness just in time to see the king of the night sky. A great horned owl, Bubo virginianus, hung in the air. Time slowed as I took in the beauty of this creature. I then realized as it glided by, that ensnared in sharp talons, and dangling from its left foot, was a long skinny snake. Away the pair went, but the memory of the moment will stay with me forever.
There are two keys to seeing wonderful things in nature. The first is simple, it's time, you must spend time in the wilderness to see its hidden creatures. The second is to look. This form of looking is different from the kind we use during the normal day. Mostly we look at things just the minimum amount to get by. When the traffic light turns green you only notice the flash of green, but you don’t look at each individual bulb making the light, you don’t notice the rust on the pole it's suspended from, you don’t notice the crack in the frame of the light itself. Why should you? This would take so much time the light might turn red again before you go.
However, when you are in the wilderness you need to follow these two keys, you need to take the time to look. A great example of this happened to me the other day. I was walking through a marshy area in the Ballona Wetlands. At first glance there was one kind of plant, and some mud. Nothing too interesting. However, as I walked I noticed small things were bouncing around, I first assumed these were dead sticks getting flung by my footsteps.
Then I remembered the two keys and stopped. I bent down and looked. At first I only saw one. One tiny insect with a triangle shaped body, a leafhopper. The more I looked, the more I saw, and then I realized hundreds covered every piece of pickleweed in sight. I looked harder still and more and more things suddenly appeared.
Still I looked and emerged an endless sea of balls of foam on the stalks of Goldenbush. A fascinating and strange occurrence, what could this foam be? I have understood that these foam balls are sometimes larval insects, caterpillars will sometimes hide from predators this way. After careful research I found the creators of this foam to be little larval insects known as spittlebugs. Well named, in my opinion. Most interesting, is that when spittlebugs metamorphose into adults, they become leafhoppers.
All it took was for me to look, truly look at what was in front of me. A barren landscape of plants and mud transformed into a thriving area in which my new friends, the leafhopper spittlebugs live their entire lives. Enjoy this slow motion video of the leafhoppers and see why they are aptly named. Also, I promise this is slow motion, they are really just that fast!
I will give you a chance to test out your skills. In the image below, what do you see? There is something there, staring right at you. Something that sees you clearly, because it lives in the wild full time and never stops looking with full intention. It doesn’t have the luxury we do to look with eyes half glazed. It's a wonderful world filled with life that we live in, and you never know what you may have looked at, but not seen.
Hopefully this encourages you to head out into our wonderful nature, and to look, to look as closely as you can. The answer key to what is in that picture is below. Let me know in the comments if you could see it, and what you see on your next adventure.
The face of a sneaky bobcat is pictured behind these plants. Did you see it?
Isaac Yelchin is foremost a herpetologist. He studies lizards, frogs, newts, and the like. Specifically, he spends all day and night thinking about what it is like to be an animal. What are the animals thinking about? What is their perspective? When he should be working, he sits and stares at his pet lizard asking himself these questions.