Seeing Small

Last Saturday, with friends staring at the Pacific from the trestle at Pudding Creek, near Fort Bragg, Stephen remarked that the waves were particularly large. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen waves like that,” he said. “They’re spectacular!”

And they were, each long swath of water gathering slowly, rising higher and higher as they traveled toward shore, cresting and crashing so forcefully that as well as moving forward, they sent sprays of water backward. What amazed me was the contrast between the violent jumble of water and foam breaking toward us and the graceful veils of water arcing back toward the ocean.

This combination of force and delicacy held my attention for some time, until I realized that the backward-arcing veils reminded me of the manes of galloping horses, flying in the wind. After marveling at this image for several minutes, the forward-breaking waves morphed into hooves, legs, and breasts of horses storming toward me. Standing safely on shore, I was watching a cavalry of muscular white horses emerging from the surf.

I was amazed that I had never seen this before, until I realized that it was seeing small over the last few years that had afforded me this opportunity to look so intently at the waves breaking before me. Until discovering small, I had no experience of gazing so deeply at or into something that the object of my gaze revealed itself more and more fully to me.

Just then Stephen mentioned that he believed there was a famous painting of just what I was describing. Oh, I thought, disappointed, then what I’m seeing is a cliché! But I quickly corrected myself, realizing that the gift of artists is their ability to see deeply into what most of us observe on the surface. And once I understood this, the joy I felt at perceiving horses and manes and pounding hooves in the breaking waves returned.

As soon as we got home, Stephen searched the Internet for the painting, and discovered multiple examples, several recreating the experience of perceiving the steeds emerging over time—as I had done. On the far right, the painter portrays the surf, then as the painting moves to the left, the surf becomes progressively defined into the shapes of white horses, left forelegs raised, galloping toward the shore.

Seeing so many variations of what I had thought was a personal discovery, was at first deflating. But once again, I soon understood that several artists experiencing what I had seen should in no way lead to disappointment. Instead, it was yet another demonstration of the power of small, and its profound impact on my life. If I had not noticed that graceful dried sycamore leaf on the sidewalk several years earlier, I would never have seen majestic white horses emerging from the surf while I stood yards away on Pudding Creek Trestle.

Moroccan Door

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