The Art of Seeing

Last week I took my dog Josie for a hike along the Wisconsin River. It was a glorious day—45° and sunny. I started on an overlook where I watched the gentle current, a boat causing a churning wake, and appreciated the dark blue color of the water. 

I descended, hiking along a well-worn path. It gave way to rough walking and gullies caused from recent heavy rains. I had to leap across a small ravine filled with muddy water, but I soon reached the smooth, tan beach. Josie ran into the water, but feeling the cold, she ran out just as fast. 

I ambled along, admiring the purplish colors of the inside of the broken clam shells. It was easy to spot the raccoon tracks, which explained what had happened to the clams. After hiking several minutes, a ridge of sand, resembling a recliner, looked especially inviting. I headed over, lowered myself, and not caring that I’d get sand on my back or in my hair, lay back on it. Yes, a sand recliner. How delightful. 

After a few minutes, Josie’s pounces let me know she wanted to keep going, so I got up. Not a simple task in sliding sand. We hiked on several more minutes until a huge sandstone rock pile prevented us from going farther. Before turning around, I decided to take some pictures. 

I patted my pants pocket. No phone. I checked my coat pocket. No phone. I dug inside the unzipped fanny pack I wore around my waist, filled with bags in case I need to clean up after the dog. No phone! 

Maybe you’ve experienced this sinking feeling. I was sure I’d brought it. Don’t panic, I told myself. Yet I kept obsessively patting pockets and checking my fanny pack. 

I just needed to follow my tracks back. If I dropped it, I’d see the red case. 

I couldn’t stop the panicked thoughts. I’d run out of iCloud storage, so my phone wasn’t backed up. I would lose pictures and contact information. And the expense! My mouth turned sand-dry. 

Stay optimistic, I told myself. Maybe I’ll find it at the sand recliner. I hurried there and looked. No bright red phone. 

I plodded along until the beach turned into hard ground. Had I walked this way or that way? Still trying to be optimistic, I remembered how I’d jumped across the ravine and navigated rough ground. I would check those places. 

I searched, but no red phone. 

Maybe I’d been mistaken about having it in my pocket and it was in the car. Please, please, please let it be there. 

I hiked up the hill and hurried to my car. I eagerly searched inside. No phone. I thought about returning home to check if it was there, but I was 90% sure I’d brought it, so I started over again. 

The dog, puzzled, stood at the car. “Let’s look once more,” I told her. This time I wouldn’t just look, but I’d use Rob Walker’s technique and “see.” I’d just picked up Walker’s book, “The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration, and Discover Joy in the Everyday.” His book points out the difference between “looking” and “seeing” and the exercises are ranked from “so easy” to “advanced.” I was at the “so easy” level and had just read an exercise that encouraged taking a walk in which color is your guide so you become sensitized to the various hues in your surroundings. I thought of that exercise now. 

Rob Walker also speaks of the need to truly pay attention and avoid distractions. For this final search, I didn’t let myself get distracted by the dog’s antics, the sparkly water, or the 

roaring motor boat. I kept focused on scanning the area for a spot of red. No, not just red as in cherry, ruby, or scarlet. My case was well used with signs of wear and a cardinal-red. 

Think color, I kept repeating to myself. Clam shells, I realized, were much more than “purple.” Opalescent, I decided. 

The river, I noted, wasn’t just dark blue but a range of colors deepening to a sapphire crystal blue. 

The sand wasn’t “tan,” but a mixture of silver, white, grey, and black flecks that combined to form a late spring fawn color. 

I reached the pile of unsurmountable sandstone rocks, scanning the variety of colors. No cardinal-red. 

I turned around. This would be my last chance. When I came to my sand recliner again, I reminded myself to pay attention and really look. I scanned the area slowly, repeatedly, looking for a spot of red. No, not red, a specific red. And that’s when I saw it. Half an inch of cardinal-red not covered by sand. I reached down and pulled up my phone.


Grinning, I brushed off the sand and zipped it safely in my pocket. It might have been my elation, but as I hiked back to the car, the world seemed brighter. No, not just brighter. It had taken on a vibrant, rosier hue.

4 Replies to “The Art of Seeing”

Sue Berk Koch

Great story with a happy ending! Thanks for sharing your adventure and insights.

Amy Laundrie

Happy ending’s are my favorite. Thanks for reading, Sue.

Gayle Rosengren

What fun! Nature, mystery, suspense and happy ending all in one. Plus you gave readers a real-time lesson in how to not just look but “see.”


Thank you, Gayle. I’m just learning the art of “seeing.” I have a long way to go.

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