Sometimes we are blind. Sometimes even looking at a thing we do not see it. We look at a bog meadow flowering with pitcher plants, dotted with sundews, and we see streets and street lamps and curbside recycling bins. We see truckloads of fill dirt arriving.
Sometimes we awaken and then we see a world before human intention. Before even humans ourselves. Before avarice.
When we awaken, we marvel at creation, the mineral bedrock, the mother lode. We see a place magnetic, operating on evolutionary time, geologic time, botanic time. All of the places where we have labored and will labor again are far away. All of the destruction is beyond the frame.
Then we can gaze with delight and wonderment on the world, with its slender reeds waving in wind, its forests of trees, its leaping orange and blue flames, its night sky, its sensuous, gilded coinage of moon.
Sometimes we get too accustomed to the world of humans.
This became clear to me one morning as I journeyed from my home in South Georgia to a dairy for cream. The highway from Metter to Millen is straight north, through vast fields of cotton and soybeans—industrial landscapes.
But on this morning the world was beautiful. Everything was glowing. In the cotton fields, the round green leaves were starting to transform to yellow, and the sun was less high and garish than it had been all summer. I should be hating these, I was thinking of the cotton fields, sprayed so intensely with glyphosate that not a weed could be found except in the ditches. I should be hating the clearcuts and the awful thickets of new growth. I should be remembering the lost species, lost habitats, lost pollinators.
On this morning the sky was a transparent blue-and-white bowl, resting upside down on the far horizons. Situated within this bowl was my heartland, my beloved Georgia. The sky was as blue as china, as blue as a bluebird, cerulean blue, the blue of the Caribbean, blue as the bluest eye; it arched like a cathedral over me, vaulted over everything I love, and I was in love with everything it covered, whether I wanted to love or not. A hawk bent low over an electric line, shoulders flashing red.
The feeling of awe and wonder was so strong in me that I began to think my morning coffee somehow was causing it. Could the coffee be psychedelic? And it could, surely it could, and I also thought that perhaps this must be what an out-of-body experience is like where I was the golden fields, the blue sky, the gray road unfolding like an invitation ahead. And I thought how so much of life is this moment-to-moment unfolding of a world.
I have seen a lifetime of destruction. I have seen also a lifetime of marvelous beauty. I have seen wilderness, mountaintops, the untouched hand of evolution, animals wild and free. I have seen old-growth cypresses so big I could walk into their boles. I have been face-to-face with bears. I have admired the tiniest of frogs.
All this has taught me that behind the modern is the ancient; that beyond the breach is the trust; that if you take some secret trail and walk far enough, you can move backward in time, back through history and prehistory, into the stunning spectacle of the earth untrammeled. And sometimes you can get there on a straight road through cotton fields, with a blue bowl overturned and the summer sun rising on a new day.
Janisse Ray is the author of six books, most recently The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food. A 2015 inductee into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, Ray lives on an organic farm near Reidsville with her husband and daughter.
This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.