I saw one again today, walking through the woods with a friend. It was blustery cold, and we took shelter in an old sugar shack. There, dangling from a wooden beam, was the oddity. A round orb, suspended from the end of a thin, silken web.
I have no name for this thing. I know that others do, even some who are reading this. I imagine it is some sort of egg casing, set there rather artistically by a creature with many legs and doubtless more than two eyes.
As a nature teacher, part of me feels as if I should learn its name. Then, chancing upon one in the woods, I could tell my friend what manner of being crafted it, and for what purpose. We’d glance at it, I’d name it, and we’d discuss the creature’s life cycle as we wandered off through the trees. This, I am sure, is the proper thing to do. Yet something can be lost when give something a name. Not permanently stolen, but hidden away, so that it’s more difficult to find. That something is the color of a thing, its scent, the way it sways in the wind. Earlier in our hike, we had both put our noses to an old wasp nest, and been amazed at the smell. It was a nest I had passed by innumerable times, but since it was just another wasp nest, I had never taken a really good look. Or in this case, a good smell.
Buddhists and artists would remind us that there is more to a thing than just its name and definition. In fact, when we learn to categorize something, it’s easy to dismiss it as just another such-and-such. But a rose isn’t actually a sound on our lips. It’s a set of colors, and scents, and textures. It has an essential, sensory reality that we can miss when we become too stuck in our heads.
Tragically, this can happen even with those we love. A wife’s face, seen 10,000 times, can just become that same old face that we see every day. When this happens, relationships begin to grow dull. Love begins to fade. Yet the truth, of course, is that the wife’s face changes every day. Indeed, it changes every moment. There is the remarkable shifting of shadows and curves as a smile flickers into laugh, or a brow furrows in concentration. Every person is an ever-shifting mosaic of emotions, thoughts, and visions. We can only grow bored of someone when we forget how to see the world as it is. Ever alive, ever changing. It is not the other who grows dull, but our own perception.
For many of us, nature is the last frontier of wonder. Even those who have “seen it all” can become amazed at the way that a jewelweed seedpod bursts at the merest touch, or at the way an entire stump can phosphoresce brightly during the darkest night. These wonders all have names, but I consider, sometimes, what might happen if we left a few things nameless. Our near-irresistable urge to label every object, when resisted, creates a corner of the world that is still as it always was, and as it truly is. A set of perceptions, of brushes upon our senses. Chocolate, tasted this way, is divine beyond measure. So is a glass of water taken from a forest spring. Our children are walking, talking (and sometimes tantrum-throwing) miracles. This moment, that we’re living in right now, is ripe with wonder.
That is why I sometimes toss names aside, to let them get comfortably lost in the forgotten, dusty corners of my mind. I know they’re there if I need them, but life tastes a little more vibrant when they’re not always insisting on being the first thing upon my thoughts.
You can try it too, if you like. You can wander deep into the forest and find something that is unknown to your eyes. Or you can do it right now, with someone close to you. See them without a name, and you might find that you’re seeing them for the very first time. They might take notice too, and see the brightness in your eyes. For a moment, they’ll be truly as they are, and that is always a wonderful thing to be.
Forgetting Names – Chippewa Herald
wasp nest – Google News