What we focus on, we often find


Exactly two decades ago, I was experiencing my first fall in the incredibly beautiful Willamette Valley of Oregon. I was part way through my first semester of my freshman year at Linfield College (now called Linfield University) in McMinnville.

One weekend, a friend invited me to visit her home near the coast, in the small town of Tillamook. The ride was quite memorable for two reasons. I remember the significant motion sickness I felt as my friend raced too fast along the winding back roads she knew so well. More significantly, I vividly remember being delighted by noticing what I referred to as “big huge birds.”

Though I later learned that red-tailed hawks and similarly sized birds of prey are common where I grew up in western Washington, I had somehow not noticed them before.

The leaves had fallen from the many deciduous trees lining the highways, and every few minutes I spotted a hawk with its sharp eyes focused, searching for its next meal. I was fascinated by these “big huge birds,” and that original descriptive phrase has stuck in my mind ever since, though I am somewhat more educated about bird names these days.

“Big huge birds” have been on my mind ever since I drove from Moscow to Clarkston several days ago, looking for beauty amid the leafless trees and brown hills. As I have expressed before, the vibrant colors of the changing seasons fill my soul with joy. Though I do love the evergreens, late fall is a harder time for me to find beauty in nature. However, the leafless trees make it much easier to catch a glimpse of majestic and elusive birds of prey we might often miss.

While my excitement has dimmed for the hawks which can often be seen, I doubt I will ever get over the thrill of spotting an owl. I have rarely felt a stronger mystical connection with an animal than when I have locked eyes with a great horned owl in the woods.

Who are the “big huge birds” in our lives? Who might we fail to notice, though they are quietly working hard each day? Who do we overlook in the midst of the glitter of the holidays or the bright distracting colors of our sources of entertainment? Our vision can be clouded for many reasons, and there is great value in intentionally looking more closely.

When we visit a store, carrying a long list of items we need or want, could we connect a little more genuinely with the humans helping stock that store or complete our transactions? When we walk through our beautiful neighborhoods, could we express a little more appreciation for the work done by neighbors and city workers to keep things in order?

Before Monday’s windstorm, I observed a line of half a dozen trucks and utility vehicles parked behind the aquatic center. About the same number of men in orange vests were talking together near the vehicles. My guess was that they were planning their response to potential emergency situations in the anticipated storm. I felt gratitude for their preparation and readiness, though I did not take time to express it then.

In addition to the “big huge birds,” I have also found myself very impressed with the clouds, sunrises, and sunsets in the last couple of weeks. The sky looks larger and more alive – full of movement and change. I believe the vibrant leaves distracted from some of these visual masterpieces before as well.

Whether we try to seek out the hard workers behind the scenes, or look for beauty in the larger picture, we’ll be happier than if we focus on the “lack” of anything. Seasons change and the greenery will return, with fascinating buds and hopeful sprouts to uplift our spirits. In the meantime, there is still much to be seen and appreciated.

During this season of celebration and stress, family and busyness, let us thank those hard workers in the background for all they do each day. Gratitude is indeed one of the greatest gifts, because we feel nearly as much joy in giving it as we do in receiving it.

Palmer is a doctoral student at the University of Idaho, pursuing her doctorate in education. She has lived with her husband and children on the Palouse since 2012. Palmer can be reached at palm1634@vandals.uidaho.edu.

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