Dillard starts off her essay with an anecdotal story about her childhood. When she was little girl, no older than "seven years," Dillard would take one of her own "precious pennies" and simply place it in inconspicuous places "along the same stretch of sidewalk" just up the road. However, her goal was not to make sure the penny was never discovered; on the contrary, she would intentionally "draw" welcoming phrases and directional "arrows" towards the penny (113). Interestingly though, Dillard would never know the final outcome of what happened to her pennies; she just didn't care. In telling this story, Dillard is bringing up her main point of the paper; seeing and perception. Her actions, hiding a penny in plain sight for someone to see is a metaphor for something much bigger; life in fact is full of random "pennies" just lying about. It is up to us on how we choose to see them and how we respond. As Dillard states, "What you see is what you get" (113). This excerpt from her life is only one of the many ways she is conveying the message of seeing and life.
Further, Dillard, after reading a book by Stewart Edward White, is left with a sense of conflicting curiosity and confusion. White, in his book, The Mountains, discusses something as simple as "seeing deer." He goes on to stress, "As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer" (115). In order to see the things that would normally go unseen, Dillard learned, she would have to let her eyes be unfocused from the things "she expected to see," the naturally obvious, and allow herself to achieve a more abstract observation of her surroundings, the artificial obvious. It was, when she learned how to do this, that she could see prior things that would have normally gone unseen, unsought, and passed up (115).In telling her reader about this moment in her life, she is stressing the importance of looking at things from varied, and maybe sometimes foreign, perspectives in order to gain a deeper understanding of life.
Continuing on, Dillard also illustrates a time in which she was surprised about what she was seeing. One "September afternoon" Dillard "heard" an unusual "racket" and decided to go look around to find the source of this peculiarity. To her delight, it was an "Osage orange tree" with "three hundred blackbirds" emerging from their perch within the tree. Dillard became curious; how had these three hundred birds stay hidden from her, appearing one moment, and just as quickly as they had "materialized", they were gone from sight, vanishing into the thin air (114). It is with this part of her essay where Dillard is stressing the importance of "actively seeing." In one line of her story, Dillard so perfectly states: "These appearances catch at my throat; they are the free gifts, the bright coppers at the root of trees" (114). This detail could not more perfectly reflect the main point that Dillard is trying to project upon her readers. Life is full of "free gifts," but in order to "see" them, you must always "keep your eyes open" and be quick, because nature, much like life, is a constant game of "now-you-don't-see-it, now you do" (114).
In addition, Dillard is further able to project her ideals of seeing through her perception of sight and blindness. In presenting her argument on how sight and blindness change and obscure one's ability to see, Dillard uses knowledge she ascertained through reading Marius von Senden's book Space and Sight. After comprehending von Senden's work, Dillard was fascinated at the fact that people whom had been visually impaired, "blinded", since the moment of "birth", after undergoing "cataract surgery", had very little to no notion of perception; "The vast majority of patients, of both sexes and all ages, had, in von Senden's opinion, no idea of space whatsoever. Form, distance, and size were so many meaningless syllables" (121). Though one may generalize that this process of seeing, with no real understanding of what is being seen, is detrimental and a critical hindrance on the quality of one's sight, Dillard choose to view these statements in a completely different way. Upon reading this book, Dillard recalls seeing "color-patches" for almost a month; everything around her began to have a new life (124). Free from constraints of depth, distance, size and form, Dillard was able to truly experience the world around her through the eyes of a cataract patient; a "sensation" Dillard proposes, that is "unencumbered by meaning" (122). Through reading this book, and gaining a deep understanding of what it really meant, Dillard concluded that for these "newly sighted", the images they experienced were true reality; these people were viewing reality, a perception of what they were seeing without the constraints or influences of anything. It is at this very moment that Dillard understands what it is truly like to "see".
Moving forward, Dillard also presents her readers with the chance to ponder what she has experienced through her life. More specifically, how "light and darkness" inhibits true perception, potentially causing one's sight to be hindered. Dillard, who analyzes every detail that she encounters, feels as though the darkness causes "obscurity" and makes it rather difficult to see. Up until now, Dillard, who has so vividly described everything around her, such beauty and life, now begins to have a more uneasy, ambiguous, tone to her words:"I can't distinguish the fog from the overcast sky; I can't be sure if the light is direct or reflected" (116). Dillard is suggesting that when the darkness sets in, our perception of things changes drastically and we become confused by the tricks the darkness "whispers to the mind" (116). Also presenting similar effects is the presence of too much light. Dillard, in giving the reader an example of the lights inhibitory strength, quotes a "letter" written by "van Gogh": "The sun, low in sky, sends a glare into his eyes, and the landscape around moves into the realm of the unreal" (118). In using these polar opposite examples, Dillard is trying to, in my opinion, to convey a sense of uneasiness in life. Despite our best efforts, there are things we will struggle to do, and possibly even fail at, but if we persevere, we can work past the "light and darkness."
Moreover, Dillard, throughout her essay, has emphasized the importance of seeing and life. How we choose to view something, and the degree of focus we give to observation, can make more aware of the artificial obvious that we would have missed out on if we hadn't taken the time to look. In life, we as humans constantly grow and evolve through the way we see and perceive, and it is precisely what we see and how we perceive that defines us. By letting go and allowing yourself to "sail on a solar wind," be in an open state of mind, completely free and empty, then you may truly be able to "see" (126).