There is no feeling in the world better than those brief moments when you experience something truly new in your life.
Just think back to the very moment you saw your son or daughter born. Was that something or what? That first breath they took, the first look they gave you – these are moments that stand out in your memory with such clarity that it could have happened yesterday.
Similarly, the beauty of nature might be right in front of your nose every single day – if you choose to see it.
A couple of recent examples happened to me just recently. The first one occurred when I was on the Cross Island Expressway on Hilton Head Island. I was just about at the bridge over Broad Creek when an osprey with a fish in its talons came screaming across the road just ahead of me.
Right on his tail was a bald eagle that had every intention of taking that fish from him. Twisting and turning, the two of them showed aerobatic skills any jet pilot would envy. Though it lasted only seconds, I don’t think I will ever forget that incredible drama.
Oddly, when I looked over at the driver in the car next to me, he gave no indication that he had seen the rare event that had just unfolded.
Not long after, my wife Karen and I boated up Bull Creek and no sooner had I pointed out a spot where I have often seen strand-feeding dolphins – something she had never seen – when two dolphins began strand feeding not 50 yards from us.
The dolphins would herd mullet up onto a large, gently sloping mud flat and then propel themselves completely out of the water and right up onto the bank, where they would eat the flopping mullet before wiggling their way back into the water.
At the very same instant, Karen noticed two large pink birds picking their way along the water’s edge. In her usual humorous manner she asked, “Is it me or are those birds pink?” They were pink all right! Immediately I recognized them as roseate spoonbills, usually seen around southern Florida.
In the space of five minutes, we had witnessed strand-feeding dolphins on one side of us and roseate spoonbills on the other. The kicker is that there was a boat full of people anchored nearby and it appeared that not a single one saw either phenomenon – even though they were less than 60 yards from both scenes.
Maybe I’m biased because I am an avid watcher, but it just seems like so many people go through life in a daze and, in the process, miss out on some pretty amazing stuff. “Daze” is probably a bit snooty as a description, because it is likely that these people were never encouraged to watch.
My parents raised us to look around, to see and to question. Then, when I was really drawn into fishing and hunting, that just seemed to tune my senses. Now I always find myself looking for subtle dramas in nature that often occur in just the blink of an eye.
That same week, I went looking for some redfish on the flats. The tides were perfect, so I went to one of my best low-water spots. As I waited on the tides, and hopefully some reds, I wondered if all the new flats fishing boats had found my spot and cleaned it out.
No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I latched into a big red in mere inches of water. I was awed by its power – that fish screamed across the shallow water flats, sending out a wake like a submarine on the surface.
In the next hour or so I managed to catch six more reds, all too big to keep, plus a couple of decent-sized trout. The fact that my fish were still there made me appreciate our piece of heaven here just that much more.
Even if it is for just a day, try looking around – really looking – as you go through life. Look up in the air, at the water, and try to hone your skills in the art of seeing. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll never again see this planet the same way.
Whether the event you see lasts seconds or minutes, it will always be in your mind to re-live and, from experience, I can say it will be as clear as the day you saw it.
One last thing: Be sure to go to a dermatologist at least once a year. Even wearing hats and putting on sunscreen is still no guarantee, as I found out recently. The spot on my head was no bigger than the tip of a ball point pen, but the end result is that a huge chunk of my head is now sans skin, down to the skull.
Get yourself checked at least once a year; for avid boaters and outdoors folks like myself, make it twice a year.
Collins Doughtie, a 60-year resident of the Lowcountry, is a sportsman, graphic artist, and lover of nature. firstname.lastname@example.org