Outdoors North

One’s senses are challenged by nature

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

“It seems lucky to me, that I was on the ground when you were looking down, that’s how you found me.” — Billy Cowsill and Jeffrey Hatcher

Along the edge of these familiar cliffs, the trail skirts in and out as it moves along a rim of cracked and broken sandstone. In varying soft shades of red, white and pink, the rocks here are marked like a painted pony.

Following the cliffs down the gritty trail to the shoreline of the big blue water, the broken pieces of rock are sorted into smaller and smaller pieces, rounded and distributed by the coming and going of the waves.

Back up along the rim, just off the trail, the soils are shallow, but they hold the roots of tall maples, oaks, birches and beeches. The taller they grow, the wearier of great storms they must become.

Here, under the outstretched branches and turning leaves of orange and yellow, a few raindrops make their way from the heavens through the canopy to reach my cheek.

My visual perspective is limited to my immediate experience.

From the lighthouse pier, I would be able to see the bigger picture. The cliffs here are layered in the sandstone formation, which has been uplifted and turned by mighty geologic forces.

I would also be able to see the blue-black threatening clouds tumbling and boiling, rolling in above the trees from the west, letting me know a big rain is likely only moments away.

Perspective — in all its shimmering forms — is an illusionary force.

It’s tricky. It can help you see or make you blind.

I recall a favorite scene from the 2002 motion picture, “The Mothman Prophecies,” which is based on a 1975 book of the same title by the late journalist and television writer John Keel.

In the scene, a character based on Keel named Alexander Leek (Keel spelled backwards) describes how a winged mothlike creature spotted in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia — said to be a harbinger of tragedy, death and destruction — might work through the mechanism of perspective.

“If there was a car crash ten blocks away, that window washer up there could probably see it,” Leek said. “Now, that doesn’t mean he’s God, or even smarter than we are. But from where he’s sitting, he can see a little further down the road.”

In the opposite direction, if I lie on my stomach I can see a whole wide world between the blades of green grass I could never observe while standing. The beauty of this terrestrial world is illuminated and enhanced with the help of a hand lens.

My perspective can also change merely by standing still in the same place, by stopping to listen, smell, look or feel.

If the black clouds rumble on by and the sun comes out, my perspective can also change. The reverse is true as well. As a lover of thunderstorms, I can appreciate the sunshine and the rain — the appearance of either has the power to move me.

A friend recently sent me a beautiful photograph of flowers in bloom. I admired it for some time from a horizontal perspective. It was only moments later that I realized the photograph was a vertical image.

Knowing this, changed the way I now see the picture.

On its face, perspective may seem like a straightforward concept, but I would argue there is more to it than appears on the surface.

This is true of perspective in human relationships too.

Coming together, coming apart, the winds of change blow through our lives like they do through the changing seasons — sometimes warm and light, other times, howling and angry — like sunshine and rain — changing our perspectives.

It’s unclear to me exactly how this all works, but it appears there is an essential element at work here that remains elusive.

British songwriter Steve Gibbons has investigated these complexities.

He writes: “Standing on the bridge I began to see my friends — for real. We began to know. We began to find our way — by feel. But it’s a crying shame, hopeless feeling, a long way down the line. Standing on the bridge, keep an understanding mind.

“Here we stand upon the bridge, time is passing by. Time to tread the road ahead. Time to say good-bye.

“Well it’s a laughing time, happy feeling, a long way down the line. Standing on the bridge, keep an understanding mind.”

Similarly, in “Spark of Love,” he writes: “Days are getting colder, chips upon your shoulder, never do you any good. People are deceiving, children are believing, everyone’s misunderstood.

“Hold me in your arms, lover, please don’t freeze. I don’t want to get down on my bended knees, I wanna walk in your summer breeze and give you just a little spark of love.”

Of course, empirical knowledge, gained from years of experiences helps form perspective, but that’s tricky too. Times change, people change, things change.

My dad drank coffee the entire time I knew him, until he developed dementia. He then swore he had never drank coffee before and he wasn’t going to start.

Eventually, he forgot my name too.

What a mess a disease like that must make of your perspective.

I think the exploding interest in drone photography and video imagery is primarily because it provides perspective previously unavailable to most folks — it seems like super high-tech digital slight-of-hand at work.

Considering perspective is one of those things that keeps my brain engaged.

When I walk through a forest, a wetland or along a mountain trail, I wonder what the birds, fish, frogs and even ants can see when they look at the same scene.

I try to keep in mind that whatever I am experiencing is only part of everything that is going on in that place at that time.

I recently visited a cranberry bog tucked into the woods, at the bottom of a trail covered with thick black mud. The closer I moved toward the water, the groundcover changed to mosses and strange pitcher plants and sundews.

The waters of the bog were peaceful and still. Reflections of the sky were captured on the surface and blurred by the gentle brush of a breeze. Pushing off from the shore in a little boat immediately made my perspective change.

The bog was still calm, but I felt a part of it now, detached from the shore and the wispy, green larches growing there. Staring down through the clear water revealed another world – one of minnows, submerged logs, lily pads and muted brown, gray and green colors of mud, sand and grass.

The warm breezes moved my boat across the water, while a raindrop or two fell from the sky. I felt lighter than air, able to move without effort.

I wonder how many of these worlds around me — in the places I experience and the people I meet — am I seeing and how much remains beyond my grasp.

I walk some, listen and look some more, trying to keep an understanding mind.

Editor’s note: John Pepin is the deputy public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula. Send correspondence to pepinj@michigan.gov or 1990 U.S. 41 South, Marquette, MI 49855.