DISCOVERING (something right under your nose) By John Watts

I could see the water tower sign from highway 81 looming ahead of me on the Woodstock exit.  “Discover Woodstock” it said.  Simple as that.

It made me pause and think what an interesting and essential word “discover” really was—and what it wasn’t.

So many of us, so much of the time, fail to take the time to adequately experience the word “discover.”  We relegate it to only being applicable for stuffy, immortal explorers from our history books who were gifted and visionary enough to claim previously uncharted places before anyone else did.  Back when frontiers were still waiting to be discovered.  Before everything was tapped out.

We just shrug our shoulders and figure we were born too late for discoveries.  Or worse yet, that we are too wise and experienced to be impressed anymore after all of the previously trodden ground we have turned up in our wake.

So we go about our travels, divorced from the meaning of “discovery” in our own lives.  We file entire towns and whole cities—including tantalizing exits full of road side attractions, as “been there and done that” closures, even though we rarely see beneath the surface of any of it.  We acquire superficial passing knowledge of a place and assume it be maxed out.

We cynically figured that only rich people and the few gifted and talented ones that aced everything—were able to DISCOVER new inventions in this modern age—those charmed pioneers and patent holders of faster communication and more convenient product inventions.

People like us just got our ideas stolen, or we never knew where to take them in the first place.  So all our brilliant inventions stayed in our brains as we idled away on the sofa watching the Discovery Channel on TV.

Most of us are well aware of the phenomenon of the distant relatives coming to visit and how chagrined we feel in realizing that we have never been to some famous monument or museum that they would like us to take them to.  Often times they know more about the place then we do from doing research beforehand.  In fact, I would submit that this is a great scenario for us locals because it forces us to DISCOVER new places with the eyes of a visitor again.

I find too, that not just accepting what the GPS says or where our google searches recommend we patronize—is the best way to be a discoverer.  If we only go where the highest volume of vacationers go and where our travel agent advises us to find the best savings—we will miss out on Robert Frost’s road less traveled.

And I don’t know about you—but I find some pretty amazing roads less traveled right around my own backyard.

So often we forget in the process, our own endless capacity for DISCOVERING adventure.

In this respect, I am grateful for my own innate inability to notice details comprehensively, such as food in my refrigerator or objects in my cupboards, until after many unsuccessful attempts.  It makes the discovery of that elusive pickle jar or miracle whip bottle seem that much more triumphant!

When it comes to traveling, I like missing details the first time too.  It just means there is more to come for!

I also like deferring to others and altering my itinerary.  To me the best travel mantra words are “ask-ask-ask-ask” and “soak-soak-soak-soak” when it comes to discovery.  The more we are open to asking the more new discoveries we have to soak up.

Because I am always surprised at discovering some new nuance in a small town that really isn’t NEW at all—or so I previously thought.

Here are just some discovery examples off the top of my head:

In Mount Jackson (in the northern Shenandoah Valley) Virginia, I discovered a duckpins alley on the second floor of a brick building, complete with church pews to sit in for the faithful costumers.  I had passed it for years and never caught the connection of there being such a place open to the public until this one special day.  Just eating a sandwich and chips and watching the duckpin action was worth every penny as there were original Coca Cola signs and so much of the operation and scoring was still done manually the old fashioned way.

In Charlestown, West Virginia I was chatting innocuously with a café worker and learned of the underground caves down the bottom of the stairs which were accessible on the floor of her café.  She showed me the entrance leading down to a passage about 175 feet long to an underground lake at the end of the grotto about 25 feet in diameter. The cave was discovered accidentally in 1906 and was for a time developed as a commercial show cave called Lakeland Cavern.  It’s long since been boarded up for safety reasons.  But in its heyday in the 1920s and 30s this was a popular destination and the scene of boat rides and high school dances.  I can only imagine how special that must have been to attend ones senior prom dance with a boat ride on an underground lake all lit up with white lights.  Talk about your bygone eras!

In Buchanan, Virginia I visited the drug store across the old movie theater that had once had a basement bowling alley that was all the rage.  It still had an operational sandwich fountain area complete with swivel seats and a fully restored juke box!

Truly the word “DISCOVERY” has within its meaning, multiple possibilities and a myriad of facets.  It doesn’t matter of it means discovering something too late–like finding out about an historic tree that has recently just fallen down only to have its trunk remains as a grave site–or the aforementioned deceased bowling alley from decades ago history.  A discovery is still a discovery. The key is the impression that such a visit stamps on your insides.

It can even mean discovering something MISTAKENLY, like when Columbus figured he had just found Indians in India when he found America.  What’s in a name anyway?

And, my favorite of all, it can mean discovering something DIVINELY—something that transforms an area that you had been to many times but never noticed until this one time in your life.  It is like the man who sees a pot of gold underneath a rainbow for the first time.  Finally the clues are noticed and the treasure is revealed.

If you are TOO proud a person, you might never admit that you had been privy to such a transformative moment.

We don’t have to exhaust and extend ourselves beyond some scary demarcation of a new frontier to be discoverers.  We don’t have to display unparalleled bravery in overcoming thunder and lightning to scale some new pinnacle of a mountain top either.  Nor do our little acts of discovery stipulate that it is only a valid discovery if our set of eyes are the first to actually see something before anyone else.  If that were the case, we would be waiting an awful long time for some space ship to land or some other rare astronomical phenomenon to be witnessed in the sky.

The place we discover can be completely private and special to us and never shared with anyone.

I find that the act of DISCOVERY is most sacred, not when we have achieved some equivalent of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic and broken some record—but when we have instead revisited some previously attended place with NEW eyes for the first time and been touched.

Discovery means the uncovering of that treasure not previously known to US before.  It require patience and a two way street of listening, showing respect and displaying reverence for the landscape.  It changes assumptions and dashes expectations.  Discovery reopens files in our archives of experiences, and makes them OPEN once again.

And sometimes the discovery lies in learning something new about ourselves while interacting with the environment.

It is a combination of just the right light, just the right angle and just the right chance meeting with some stranger, in order to be freshly educated on some new mystery and revelation.  It is Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings all rolled into one—and tapping into it, just might mean being happy for the rest of our lives as long as we remain faithful conductors of its electricity.

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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