Learning to Look

Part of human nature, of how we experience ourselves in the world, is linked to the human sense of scale and our ability or inability to see the world around us. The crater at Mt. Tabor in Portland is an excellent example of this. Some people, in fact most people, will stand in the crater and see a parking lot, basketball courts, and a performance amphitheater all semi-enclosed by what looks like half a hill, a grassy knoll on one side and a great wall of rock on the other.  Or you could see the exposed cross section of the inside of a small, possibly someday active volcano. You would notice the vertical vent, the piled layers of gravel-sized rocks ejected in fits and starts, each eruption contributing another layer to the cone like children at work on a sandcastle. You might then go on to notice other such round features across the city, isolated cones of land and realize that the entire area is dotted with small volcanoes. Learning to look, at the landscape, the plants and animals, the night sky, is an important part of understanding the world and our role in it. Urban green spaces and semi-developed natural areas almost always provide excellent interpretive resources. It is worth reading the signs, listening to the ranger, or picking up the brochure. Even better, read a guide to plants and animals or flip through picture books about geology and ecology. Take a class at the local community college or go listen to a lecture.