The Things I’ve Never Noticed

I’m thinking about new ways of looking at the familiar.

Last week, my husband and I took a hike in Valley Forge Park, one of our favorite places to walk. Usually we stick to the Joseph Plumb Martin Trail, a 5-mile paved loop around the park. It’s scenic, it’s comfortable, it’s familiar. But this time, we ventured into the woods, up the steep, rocky path of Mount Joy, and I lost my bearings. What was known became unknown. We discovered a footbridge, a rusty sign pointing to a long-gone observatory, and a road we did not recognize. Eventually, peering through the trees, I caught sight of a familiar landmark, and I was struck at how different it looked. Usually I’m outside the woods, looking in. But now I was inside the woods, looking out. The distance between the two points couldn’t have been more than 30 feet, but given my new vantage point, I might as well have been in a different park.

Two days later, we took a long bike ride in Philadelphia. We started at Kelly Drive, biking along the Schuylkill River, and ended up on the other side of the city, now riding beside the Delaware River. I looked up at the Ben Franklin Bridge looming overhead and was astounded to see a bicyclist, then another, speeding across the river.

“You can bike across the bridge!” I shouted to my husband. And so we did.

That evening, I posted on Facebook: “I’ve lived in the Delaware Valley my entire life, and I never knew you could bike across the Ben Franklin Bridge.”

I’ve driven near, over, and under that bridge, seen hundreds of photos of it and never noticed the walkways lining its sides.

Both of these outings made me wonder: what else is right under my nose that I’ve never seen? And this reminded me of one of my daughter’s favorite quotes:

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” — Henry David Thoreau

I need to stop looking and start seeing.

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