In my office I have a calendar, a collage really, of Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post and Life magazine covers. As we approach his 119th birthday with a new biography coming out this year, we would do well to look at those paintings as snapshots of a world, in many cases nearly 100 years old.
Rockwell painted scenes with people at the center; people who were going about their everyday routines. There was the child at the doctor's office. We know from experience what that boy was going through. My mom would say for years that you could always tell when I was in the chair at the dentist's office because there would be a lot of gagging and a general struggle. Like Rockwell, she embellished somewhat.
He captured any number of other ordinary scenes whether they involved kids, parents, grandparents, or other people that come in and out of our lives - citizens at the polling booth, a family gathered at the dinner table, kids at play and families on the road, these were the scenes of the early to mid-20th century.
That was the world then and it remains so today, albeit in a more modern setting and with more glitzy gadgets.
Where Rockwell observed humans in their environment, others observe a world with a lesser human influence. Any child or parent guide who has completed a nature collection project can speak to this.
You can learn so much by simply closing your mouth and opening your eyes. The world outside of our normal bounds defies the spoken word.
Trek across Gibson Woods, Oak Ridge Prairie, Lemon Lake or any county or state park and you will be amazed, rendered speechless. Fall, the time of year when Mother Nature shows off, will present to you a whole other community of creatures and landscape. This is a world where the usual tools will simply not do.
On any given fall day, with a fog hanging across an open field before you, you might see a majestic deer or marvel at the sun just above the horizon. A painting or even a photograph could capture the scene, but can never give you a full perspective.
Stepping out on a lawn heavy with dew before the neighborhood has shaken off its slumber and gazing out on a fall canopy of color? Well, Rockwell would appreciate that sight.
So, continue to look for leaves and bugs, wildflowers and other natural phenomena. You won't have to catalog it for class, but the observation will continue.
Instead of observing people as Rockwell did, you will observe the natural wonders. If you are inclined, an easel or a camera would be nice. Just remember that there will be times when that is simply not enough to convey the wonder seen with your own eyes.