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Seeing the Unseen on the Legacy Loop Trail

A walk on the Legacy Loop trail at Circle Creek trail can be completed in under 15 minutes; from the barn and back, it’s just 0.8 mile. Walk it with naturalist and photographer Neal Maine, and it could take all day–a day well spent, seeing not just what’s in front of you but the meaning and the processes within those things.


Without an observer, there is no meaning. How do we bring meaning to what we see? Neal suggests we start by focusing on our feet, anchored to this planet by gravity. “It feels like we’re not moving at all,” he says,”but we’re flying through space, rotating around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour.” Look toward the sun, the source of energy that made all the living things around us, that made us. “Make sure you are personally sensing the Earth turning toward the sun.

“That gets you ready for the real world: ‘Okay, I’m standing here, I see the sun, I feel the Earth.’ It’s just a mental cue, to change the nature of your perspective. Because nature is not any of those things we’ve been doing that day in our busy lives.”


“Then you are ready to step into what I call the ‘forest soup,'” Neal says. “We can’t see it, but it’s there: all the pollen, all the oxygen, all the carbon dioxide and photons that created everything around us. If you’re blocking the light, you’re knocking out the photons headed toward a plant, toward the soil. Every time you take a breath, you’re consuming oxygen that was split off from a plant three minutes ago, oxygen that’s keeping you alive.

“Seeing isn’t just a visual thing,” Neal says. “It includes the feel of the wind and moisture on your skin. What you feel determines your perspective.”

Here Neal shares some photos he’s take in the vicinity of the Legacy Loop trail, accompanied by quotes from some of his favorite authors and thinkers.


“One gram of moss from the forest floor, a piece about the size of a muffin, would harbor 150,000 protozoa, 132,000 tardigrades, 3,000 springtails, 800 rotifers, 500 nemadotes, 400 mites, and 200 fly larvae. These numbers tell us something about the astounding quantity of life in a handful of moss.”
–Robin Wall Kimmerer, in Braiding Sweetgrass


“What does it mean to read nature? It means … embarking on a journey that leads toward the realization that every single thing that we have found interesting up to this point in our lives has its roots in this network we call nature. Health, business, politics … All subsets of nature.”
–Tristan Gooley, in How to Read Nature


“Preoccupation with self is the greatest barrier to seeing, and the hardest one to break. Frederick Franck in The Zen of Seeing calls this the ‘Me cramp’; too much self-concern blocks direct experience of things outside yourself.”
–Freeman Patterson, in Photography and the Art of Seeing


“We do a lot of looking: we look through lenses, telescopes, television tubes … Our looking is perfected every day–but we see less and less … ‘Subjects’ we are, that look at ‘objects.’ Quickly we stick labels on all that is, labels that stick once and for all. By these labels we recognize everything but no longer see anything. We know the labels on all the bottles, but never taste the wine.”
–Frederick Franck, in The Zen of Seeing


“In order to get the tightness and tenseness out of your body, you have to empty your mind. It is like the connection between wind and water. The waves will not subside as long as the wind is blowing. Relaxing is the act of stopping the mental winds, so your body will be still.”
–Freeman Patterson, in Photography and the Art of Seeing


“Western science hasn’t stooped to take seriously the possibility that the forest, or the lack of it, might be part of our being. Yet forest lovers know very well that trees affect our minds.”
–David Haskell, in The Forest Unseen


“The sun is origin of both the dawn’s light and birds’ morning songs. The glow on the horizon is light filtered through our atmosphere; the music in the air is the sun’s energy filtered through the plants and animals that powered the singing birds. The enchantment of an April sunrise is a web of flowing energy. The web is anchored at one end by matter turned to energy in the sun and at the other end by energy turned to beauty in our consciousness.”
–David Haskell, in The Forest Unseen


On July 7, Neal will lead a very slow walk on the Legacy Loop trail; registration for this walk opens June 1. It is among NCLC’s On the Land outings offered at Circle Creek Conservation Center in summer 2019.






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