I see them in trees, rocks, hillsides, in the hard-water stains on my shower curtain.
I’m not sure if this is a “writer thing” or not. I suspect it might be. I think I am always, subconsciously, looking for characters and creatures and “other worlds.” A side effect, I am sure, of being weaned on Tolkien and Narnia and The Neverending Story.
I watch Discovery Channel. I know the human brain is hard-wired to “see” faces in inanimate things. We see them in the moon, on Mars, in the clouds, in bowls of shredded wheat, in shrouds. There’s even a scientific name for it: pareidolia. (Use that in your next Scrabble game.)
This is not, I think, a bad thing.
Rather, it is, I believe, a by-product of an actively creative mind. In other words, if you are a writer or artist or musician (or a physicist or pharmacist or phys. ed teacher) or any human being who is fully engaged with your environment, you will have a natural tendency to look closely at things. And when we look closely—when we actively seek out additional layers of meaning or significance or beauty—we almost always find it. It’s one of the more wonderful perks of being human.
But, whinny the neigh-sayers, you are imposing something on nature that isn’t there!
To which I emphatically respond, “So?” and "Who says?"
Because, if we see something—be it a face or a symbol or the posterior birth-mark of a deceased great-aunt—then it is there on some level that is meaningful to us. It seems unreasonable to further insist that Nature provide us with some sort of ‘proof of intent’ just to validate the creative connections we make between what we see and what is ‘actually there’--whatever that means.
Every bit of sensory information that enters our human brains is subject to interpretation. It is how we translate all those firing synapses, electrical impulses and chemical reactions into something that makes sense to us. Seeing shapes of human significance in inanimate or natural objects is simply an extension of this very necessary need to interpret nature in a human way. Because how else could we possibly interpret it?
Whether or not a higher power intentionally crafts a personal and visual message to us using natural elements does not change the fact that we are impacted on a very emotional and spiritual level when we see recognizableimages--like faces--in nature. This sort of 'art-in-nature' resonates with us. And this resonance strums our own creativity and sets it humming.
So look for it. And don't dismiss it when you find it. (And you will find it.) Rather, delight in it.
Where was I?
Oh, right. Faces.
I see them. In nature. And they fill me with a thrill of child-like delight every time. They send me free-wheeling off on new creative trajectories that I never anticipated.
Earlier this week--it was the start of our Canadian Thanksgiving weekend--I went looking for leaves to photograph. Because that’s what you do in New Brunswick in October. You take pictures of leaves. Brilliant, brassy, sock-you-in-the-eye, make-you-want-to-cry-because-they’re-just-that-beautiful autumn leaves. And I found them. (They are, after all, kind of hard to miss this time of year.)
I also found something else.
They were in my way.
I was pushing through them, trying to get in position to photograph a particularly spectacular maple. The Sleepy Hollow kind: all black branches, jack o’lantern leaves and looming majesty. You know the type. But the tree was on the other side of a marsh, and the cattails were taller than me. No matter where I pointed my lens, the reedy things kept getting in my shot. Frustrated, I decided to seek higher ground. I turned around and began shoving my way out of the cattails …and saw this:
(Do you see it?)
I stopped. I looked. Really looked. And suddenly I was surrounded by faces. It was totally a Stranded-on-Endor-among-Ewoks kinda moment. I had stumbled into a cattail colony. Fierce faces, mustachioed faces, venerable faces, animal faces, shaggy and primitive faces…were peering down at me, nodding gravely at the blundering intruder in their midst. And I stopped taking pictures of trees and starting photographing cattails. Here are some of the photos I took. Perhaps you will see faces. Perhaps you will see something completely different. Perhaps you will see cattails. Have a look:
Did you feel it? That little thrill of recognition? Did you giggle in giddy surprise? Or open your mouth in an “O” of wonder? Did you feel just a whisper of (dare we call it) magic?
Call it creative interpretation of nature. Call it the 'art of the mind.' Call it what you will. Looking for--and discovering--recognizable forms and faces in natural and inanimate objects replenishes our creative wells, sparks our creative souls and, I believe, expands our capacity for imaginative thought. For me, seeing faces is an exercise in paying attention and being open to discovering art and wonder at unexpected times, in the most unexpected of places. Or maybe you just think I'm nuts. And that's okay. But if you do think I'm crazy because I'm seeing faces where there aren't any, take a look at THIS picture that I snapped yesterday beside my back door:
...and TELL me that there's not a bearded bald dude on the back of that spider!