More of less

Just as interesting

In February, which seems three decades ago not three months, I was in Lisbon.

The Portuguese capital, famous for salted cod and custard tarts, is also known for its hills.

The steepest and tallest of these sit facing each other, the flat plain of the commercial district in the middle. The Barrio Alto, the wealthy part, has an ornate iron elevator to save your shopping-weak legs; the hill opposite, the old and traditionally poorer Alfama, doesn’t.

But what both hills share is eye-filling views: shining river, toothy buildings, and rooftops with their secret laundry. The vistas are magnificent, and so as a visitor you spend hours and oxygen climbing from one to the other – and breathing it all in.

When I was 17, I went on a biology field trip to a local heath. Our task was to assess the ecology there, and the tool was a one-foot square. We would throw this quadrant randomly and note the plants found inside.

This day out – constrained and curious – was one of my best ever.

This May, as I wake up slowly at home in my corona-lockdown, I’ve enjoyed the birds. Not just their songs, but their voices. Some are pure, like a child’s whistle. Others are smoker-raspy. All are interesting.

On our daily walks, I’ve tracked the emergence of ferns, which sprout flat against the ground to stake their claims to future sunlight. Or the tiniest of purple flowers, bravely showing themselves soon after the last snow melts.

All of this is a never-before-noticed wonder.

Back in February, I needed big-wham spectactularness – loud enough to drown my mind-chatter. Now, with a still, less stimulated mind, beauty needs only to whisper. My eyes see more of less.

When I’m quiet enough to notice, there’s as much amazement in a foot of ground as in a city of a million.