May - Paying Attention



I love the sound of frogs in springtime, so when I heard about a Frog Hike in mid-April I couldn’t wait. It was to be held at Poag Sand Prairie, a little 10-acre “geological gem” outside Edwardsville, Illinois. The evening of the Frog Hike I joined about 20 others and listened to Professor Essner and his graduate students as they charmed us with descriptions of the prairie’s most unique inhabitants, threatened Illinois chorus frogs, pictured here. This unique species burrows in the sand, living almost their entire lives underground. It makes sense that they are threatened, since sand prairies are one of Illinois’ rarest and oldest landscapes, formed as retreating glaciers ground up rocks more than 10,000 years ago. All this information deepened my appreciation for the Heartland Conservancy’s efforts to protect this sandy treasure with its rare frogs and to provide visitors with a trail and events to experience the very special life here.


For years as I traveled Highway 255 I had no knowledge about Poag Sand Prairie. Instead, what grabbed my attention was something much bigger, Lakeview Commerce Center where 8 warehouses with 6.5 million square feet of space store products for companies like Amazon, Hershey, and Procter and Gamble. As I drove past this eyesore I bewailed its existence and what it says about consumerism. My attention was only focused on the obvious; I had no idea what lay adjacent to it.


Now when I pass by my attention is thankfully focused elsewhere. This juxtaposition of natural area with the unnatural commerce center reminds me of Jenny O’Dell’s thoughts in her book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. She writes, When the pattern of your attention has changed, you render your reality differently. You begin to move and act in a different kind of world … As I disengaged the map of my attention from the destructive news cycle and rhetoric of productivity, I began to build another one based on that of the more-than-human community, simply through patterns of noticing … As a result, more and more actors appeared in my reality: after birds, there were trees, then different kinds of trees, then the bugs that lived in them. I began to notice animal communities, plant communities, animal-plant communities; mountain ranges, fault lines, watersheds. … I was met with the uncanny knowledge that these had all been

there before, yet they had been invisible to me in previous renderings of my reality.


How true! I really felt my reality had changed and that I was moving in a different world – more alive, unique, special, one that evokes gratitude and awe and is worth sharing. Here is a concluding message from Mary Oliver’s poem Sometimes:

Instructions for life:

Pay attention

Be astonished

Tell about it.

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