As I welcome in 2021, I’ve been pondering the possibilities. Nothing truly changes when we flip over the calendar from one year to the next. It’s like having a birthday; you are still you. However, both are a chance to reflect on the past and imagine what the future holds.
As I look ahead, I ask myself what’s important to me. The word that comes to mind is discovery. Even small moments can be filled with wonder and energy if it’s not so distracted by looking behind and worry about what comes next. I’m a worrier by nature, but I also relish being in the moment. Not letting myself get so distracted that I don’t notice the smallest thing in front of me.
A few days ago, I was walking along a marsh that isn’t far from my house, so it’s a frequent spot to visit. On a sharp turn in the path, there were claw marks in a tree. I was talking to my husband and could’ve walked past the light lines created by four claws pulling upward along the wet brown trunk. They were below my eye line and in a place that if I’d turned to look too far ahead, I could have easily missed it.
After I stopped to inspect the fresh marks and took pics with my phone, I looked around the tree’s base to see if there were tracks, but the snow from before Christmas was gone. My untrained eye couldn’t locate a mark. My best guess was some kind of large cat pushing off the tree to pounce on something. A friend thought something similar when I sent the photos—the joy of discovery.
It made me think about E.B. White’s essay Coon Tree about watching a raccoon climbing down a tree’s trunk outside his bedroom window. How it would descend headfirst until six feet from the ground, then stop and turn to finish its descent hind first. Ultimately the essay written in 1956 by an aging man is about technology and change and worry about the future. He says, “Events carry us rapidly in directions tangential to our true desires, and we have almost no sensation of being in motion at all—except at odd moments when we explode an H-bomb or send up a hundred new planets or discard an old stove for a new one that will burn thorium instead of spruce.” He’s just a man watching a raccoon care for her kittens while progress and change are coming at warp speed around him.
He added a P.S. to this essay in 1962. Six years later, he looks back at his anxieties about change and the future and what he thinks he knows about raccoons. He continues his watch over the critters in his tree only to discover they don’t all traverse the trunk in the same way. “Moral: a man should not draw conclusions about raccoons from observing one individual.” He doesn’t let the things that worry him distract him from the chance to discover, then rediscover all over again. There is real joy in discovery, even in the face of change and worry. Whatever your resolutions, goals, aims, or hopes for 2021, I wish you luck. I also wish you wonder and discovery in 2021.