I remember as a teenager in the late ’60s watching the opening scene of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” a movie with little dialogue and lots of imagery. The sun rose over a crescent Earth hung in space while the kettle drums of Richard Strauss’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” thundered in the background.
Although weaned on the sight of the Mississippi River Valley from atop the bluff, I had never seen anything quite so stunning. I spent the next year watching the movie six times, even traveling to Milwaukee to see it on the big screen.
I spent the next 50 years trying to find more wonders of the universe. The image of Neil Armstrong setting foot upon the moon swelled my imagination. So did the sights of the Pacific Ocean, the Grand Canyon, and the summit of Denali; marvels so vast a big screen will not hold them.
The births of my children sent waves of gratitude through my life that still echo today with the births of my grandchildren. They suddenly appeared in the world, as if pulled wide-eyed from a magician’s hat. So astonished, I felt weak-kneed. Just ask the nurse attending my first-born, who told me to sit down before I fell down.
Iconic moments do that to us. We feel our knees fail, hear the thunder, and see the light. We just need to pay attention.
As we grow older, those iconic moments become more elusive. We’ve seen it all before. We can walk right past the eighth wonder of the universe and not see it because we’re late for work.
I take my walks out at the park. I thoroughly enjoy my walks, but I know the path so well I could walk it blindfolded. I do keep my eyes open though, hoping for that visual lightning bolt to strike me.
Last evening was different. I sat on a log — a fallen tree that our dog Fargo and I have adopted as our special place — and closed my eyes. An American Goldfinch chirped in a nearby tree. A horse fly and mosquitoes buzzed around my head. A small tree fell, thundering to its resting place, undermined by the recent rain. Fargo panted in my ear, making his own keen observations through his ears and nose.
What I thought were children playing in the picnic grounds turned out to be horse riders talking and laughing along the trail I was hiking. The last rider saw me as they passed and nodded in my direction, not wanting to disturb my revelry.
Listening. Whoever thought one of our five senses could lead to another dimension?
Fargo and I got up and continued our hike. A few hundred yards later, Fargo kicked up a deer in the brush that circled back toward me. The deer headed straight toward me, oblivious to my presence.
It suddenly saw me and stopped abruptly about 10 feet away, its hoofs planted in the ground, like Wile E. Coyote screeching to a halt at the edge of a cliff. Its eyes opened as wide as mine. We looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity, about two seconds in real time, then it scampered off in the opposite direction.
Sometimes wonder finds you without looking for it.
The space suit worn by actor Keir Dullea in “2001: A Space Odyssey” is going up for auction at an estimated value of $300,000. I think I’ll pass. I did look up at the sky the other night and found the iconic Big Dipper looking back at me. Its ladle side always points to the North Star, a guiding light for us in our wanderings and our wonderings — if we pay attention.