Duck or Elephant?

My mom and dad were always telling my brother and me to lie on our backs in the yard and watch the clouds go by. Along with this I was encouraged to see animals in the clouds, but this often led to arguments with my brother about what was in the cloud. It’s kind of like dating or politics. It’s “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” thing.

Humans are pattern-seeking animals anyway. I see patterns everywhere. I have tile in my bathroom that, when I first moved here, looked to me like a poor guy carrying an immense boulder — or the world — on his back. He looks up at me with his tiny face as if he is asking for help. I can still find him if I look, but now I see other things or nothing at all but tile. I think I saw that guy because that’s how I felt when I retired and moved away from California.

When I was 41 I asked myself a dangerous question. I was riding my bike down a single track that I loved and knew well. I looked over at the hill to my right behind which the sun was setting. There was a strange green glow above the hill, an optical illusion caused by the red of the sun. I thought, “What’s real, anyway?” That question dragged me down the rabbit hole of a major depressive crisis.

Since then I’ve come to understand that’s the question we should ask all the time, the question that liberates us from illusion in all its manifestations. I’ve also learned we — or, any rate, I — can never live in a world without illusion. It’s a constant battle.

Yesterday I took Bear out to the Wildlife Refuge. I’d heard cranes when I stepped out my back door and decided that a long walk in that wide and empty place was just what we needed. Well, what we always need. The sky was amazing. In every direction are mountains of different altitudes, distances from me, geologies. Above the various ranges were different kinds of clouds. Over the La Garitas to the northwest were sinuous lenticular clouds, stretching out under the wind and the convection of warm air rising from the earth. I didn’t take a photo because all I had (or have most of the time) is my phone and the clouds would not be all that visible in a phone photo. I found myself thinking about their beauty and how they were formed and not whether or not they looked like sea lions. There is, for me, more wonderment in reality than in pareidolia.

22 thoughts on “Duck or Elephant?

  1. Wow, yet another commonality, Martha! What is that, 2 in 1 week? I have always seen faces in linoleum and vinyl tiled kitchen & bathroom floors. Some of them remained static for years, like at my grandparents’ home in Alabama and the 1st probation office I worked in, but some of them only showed themselves when I was in a particular mood, usually a grim or dark one. I agree with you, though; there’s far more wonderment in reality.

  2. I too have always seen pictures in tiles on the floor, in flooring, in cement, in the fence. I wished I could get a picture of the fence and send you. It’s a half-face of a pup and no one else could see it until I went up and pointed and drew an invisible line around it, then everyone else went, omg, that is a real dog face. lol who knew!

    • There’s a mountain east of San Diego that if you’re driving east, you see a gorilla face. I didn’t see it for years and then once it was pointed out, I had to see the damned every time. 😀

      • LMAO I know the feeling. Someone pointed out a native diving off a mountain in a way suggesting suicide. Every dang time we passed that spot, it was immediately what I saw. Eventually I saw something else, a face, regal and proud but it was awhile

  3. I can see your little struggling person Martha 🙂 A walk is the best way to burn off that extra adrenaline that builds and causes harm. I agree with Victoria “sinuous lenticular clouds, stretching out under the wind.” just amazing. and I got a song too….wonderful ❤

    • A walk is the best.

      “In my room, the world is beyond my
      But when I walk I see that it consists of
      three or four hills and a cloud. ” Wallace Stevens, “Of the Surface of Things.”

  4. You need to see the winking man in the Roaches (a range of hills in the Staffordshire moorlands out past Leek) as you drive past what looks like the chiseled profile of a man, the hole where his eye would be appears to wink as the rocks in the background move in relation to the hole.
    PS I always looked for patterns in the clouds. I found that one type dissolve in the air as they move. Making me imagine I was dissolving them with my mind!

  5. Walking outside – especially on a sunny day with scattered clouds that look like something other than just clouds – can be just what is needed. Someone did a study on how walking in the forest actually relaxes you. It works for me. Forest bathing was the term. I love “Both Sides Now” too. And I often see faces in patches of ice on the ground and in mounds of snow as they melt and then hardens when the temps dip. Twigs & road pebbles are perfect accents 🙂

  6. I really don’t know life either.
    I know the rocks and the snakes and the rivers. The coyotes and the scrub jays.
    I know my body’s sweat and hunger and thirst and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I know the cooling breeze on a hot day.
    The clouds are whatever I want. It doesn’t matter that they are just condensed vapor.
    People, life, belonging? Still don’t have a clue.

  7. I’ve always seen pictures in things. Growing up there was a girl in the grain of the wooden bedroom door… She was a sentinel keeping all the monsters out at night! What is real is often augmented by imagination. I like to keep my imagination active and engaged. Whimsy is important for enjoying life – at least for me!

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