George McKinney reflects on how we appreciate what it is we have before us, from the sun setting behind the island of Rhum to a Sea Eagle making graceful progress across the sky:
Of course the simple answer to the title-question is; whatever you see. Line ten people up to watch the sun set behind the Scottish island of Rhum and you will find that each will see something different and the process of sharing their thoughts can add something for everyone.
This process is only disturbed if any of the ten argue to impose their own perspectives on the others or if one person adopts a position that seeks to degrade any other person’s contribution by suggesting that s/he is not competent to appreciate what is there before them all.
In his book, ‘How to be a bad bird-watcher’ Simon Barnes excellently captures this sentiment and defends the importance for individuals to have confidence to simply enjoy what they see. If a bird is seen and the watcher marvels at its colours or actions, then that is absolutely fine as an end in itself. The same is true for the feelings and thoughts that an individual might have when watching that sun go down behind Rhum.
However, Barnes goes on to say that those initial, important and valid feelings can be enhanced if the watcher layers on some additional background knowledge; like the name of that type of bird. Knowing the name of the bird-type or what its migration pattern is can add something. Of course, it also has the potential to detract from that instant appreciation of, and identification with, that bird in that particular setting. I can see, that it is not always true that the more you know the more you will be able to enjoy. For one of the ten a sighting of a sea-bird flying across that view of Rhummight drive her/him wild in an attempt to know exactly what type of bird was seen.
Having said all that, and being someone who can happily sit still and be entranced by the beauty of a view, I do find it hard not to want to know a little more. It does not spoil the view to want to know how those clouds were formed, what the rocks are composed of and how they have been shaped over time. Nothing is lost if I know a little more about the social history of the Highland Clearances and find my attention drawn to a small ruined croft in the foreground of the view. Nothing is lost if I am aware that the area was once (over 50 million years ago) part of the underground structures of a giant volcanic complex; one of three volcanoes that thrust upwards and spewed lava of different types at different times along what is now the west coast of Scotland.
I do not find knowledge that the Great Northern Loon fishes in these waters or that a Sea Eagle may hove into view at any time detracts. Nor am I concerned when thoughts of my personal past creep into my mind; past time when I looked over that same view some 30 years ago. All of these components layer together to enhance my experience of the view at that moment in time.
What is in a view? For me, the answer is never the same as I change, those around me change and slowly, ever so slowly, the view itself changes. What is important is to celebrate our ability to accept and respect all those feelings in ourselves, in others, and be happy to share such moments with those you love.
Words and pictures by George McKinney
Simon Barnes ‘How to be a bad Birdwatcher; to the greater glory of life’ was published May 2005 by Pantheon.