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This column is about focus. Anyone with a camera will be familiar with what I am talking about. Mine, for example, has a little lever that allows me to increase the magnifying power of the camera’s lens and viewfinder – at the same time to bring things up close and reduce the viewing field. I don’t often use another of its features, but this lever also allows me to go in the opposite direction, to widen the view and make things appear at a greater distance.
A series of experiences a few days ago made me consider how this concept of focus provides a metaphor for many of our observations of the world around us.
On that day I joined Rick Ohler’s writing group for a bus tour of the Town of Aurora. The tour was part of Nancy Smith’s Campaign for the Mill Road Scenic Overlook, which seeks funds to protect this attractive vista.
I have done my share of traveling. I’ve visited most of the United States and Canadian provinces, taught in England and back during World War II spent a month in the Mediterranean, even riding a bus over the Anti-Lebanon Mountains from Beirut to visit Damascus, the farthest I have ever been from home in Western New York.
And I have friends who have traveled still farther. Borneo, New Zealand, South Korea, Tanganyika – you name it, they have been there, mostly but not always on birding expeditions.
To bring those trips into focus you would need not only a wide-angle lens but a distant viewing position, perhaps on the moon.
It would be much easier to focus on our expedition around the Village of East Aurora and its outskirts. You could get that entire trip into a single photo from a small airplane a few hundred feet high. In fact, still in that airplane you would need to widen your lens only slightly to include the lovely view looking north from our trip high point that took in the City of Buffalo and nearby Lake Erie.
I thought about the contrast between those excursions to distant lands and this local bus ride. And I asked myself, which would I choose?
Perhaps it is a function of age but I found myself happy to choose right here. My internal camera is satisfied to limit its width of focus lens to our neighborhood. For there is plenty to see right here.
On the morning of our tour we stopped at several parks, again tightening our focus. At Sinking Ponds, for example, we looked out across the placid waters at the lovely woodlands rising beyond them. And Rick pointed out the adjacent marsh were he told us Corps of Engineers-constructed bridges sank in quicksand, giving the parkland its name.
We learned when we stopped there how Majors Park was recently added to the town parks system. And when we paused at the Cazenovia Creek Nature Sanctuary, Rick told us how the disastrous slide of a home down the embankment led to the removal of the condemned building and the creation of this lovely park.
Our trip culminated at the Mill Road Vista itself, an open field bordered by maples just beginning to turn into their handsome fall colors.
But along our travels I had found myself tightening my view still further. First, I focused on the individual homes we passed. Many of them had no lawn, their yards merging perfectly into the woodlands in which the houses were built.
Finally, I reduced my focus to the world of individual plants, thinking of an exercise my predecessor David Bigelow once suggested: throw a hula hoop on the ground and explore the world it circumscribes.
There I found the lovely fall colors of asters and goldenrods, of daisy fleabane and red osier dogwood. And the milkweed pods that will soon open to set in flight seedling parachutes.
When we tighten our focus there is much to enjoy. We too often miss it.

email: insrisg@buffalo.edu