Our water tower is across the street from the grocery store. I pass it daily—seeing it without really seeing it. I was waiting in the parking lot one night last week while my husband bought a couple items for dinner. It gave me the chance to observe my surroundings, and the water tower caught my eye. I was shocked at its transformation: a large clump of antennae stuck up from the center like a punk hair-do, and the foundation was criss-crossed with wires supporting numerous cell phone transmitters.
I looked at this now-ugly structure, thinking, When did this happen?— realizing that it’s probably been that way for a long time. Where was I?
Transformations can be surprising. They can also be fleeting and delightful. When I drive to Missouri to visit my mother, I leave very early—about 5:00 a.m. I do this for two reasons: I like to avoid the worst of the morning rush hour, and I’ve always loved leaving early…especially if it is dark. There’s just something about leaving a still-dark, mostly-sleeping town with hot tea in my go-mug and cool jazz playing on the radio that is extra fun.
As I drive, the world slowly transforms from dark to dawn to daylight. It’s different each time, depending on the weather and the time of sunrise. On one trip, the mist hovered thickly over cornfields and steamed up from ponds and the Illinois river. An omen, apparently, as I proceeded to drive into fog that lasted until Bloomington.
Another time, I was passing near acres and acres of wind-turbines. The sun was just coming up and was reflecting off the bases, creating the illusion that the blades were turning on pillars of light. I’d given anything for a camera and a safe place to pull over!
On my last trip, the eastern clouds were like “flat, charcoal-colored amoebas against the brightening sky.” (I wrote that down at my first rest break.)
By observing these transformations of nature, I find that I, too, am transformed. There is a serenity that results from focusing on beauty and detail; from gratitude for our amazing world and the opportunity to observe it. As I circle around ideas for my new project, slowly spiraling closer to character arcs and premise, I ask who are my main characters, and how will they be transformed? And in the silence of a changing day, I listen.