The tree’s shade finally inches over me. I chose this spot mostly because of the tree, and its place standing tall at the top of the hill. I can see miles in every direction — ahead of me, that is. I should not turn my head to disorient my set perspective. My decision is to sit here in this position, without moving, for one year. And so far, it has scarcely been a day. I hesitantly remind myself.
My eyes are not to move either, so my gaze rests on another particular tree some distance down the hill. I become intimately familiar with this tree. Since it is so far, my focus encompasses the entire tree and not just a small part. I notice the style of its branches, the contrast of its trunk’s color to my scene’s background, the reflective texture of its leaves. But it is all with little clarity; I find myself imagining hypotheses for what the details might be. “Is there a crevice, there, in the trunk?” or “Was it that leaf that just fell, or a leaf right behind it?” The distance frustrates my inquiry.
About an hour into this exercise, I begin to notice a novel phenomenon in my vision. The particulars of the tree, they seem… more distinct to me now. The low-resolution pixels of my vision have slowly refined, revealing a quality of definition that I’ve never imagined. It is as if every minute nook in the tree’s body was right in front of my eyes, and simultaneously. I peer inside the nooks, noting their inner texture of darker, wetter bark. My eyes begin to water at the density of information. But soon the weak film over my eyes is eroded away by the gentle-yet-persistent breeze. I presumed the film was functionally important, but given these last few hours to make myself comfortable with a new kind of sight, its removal has the effect of the removal of the cap off a lens.
The sun tumbles over the horizon, darkness overcoming. At first I fear that the lack of light will make my sleepless nights uninteresting, but after a quick adjustment of three hours of darkness, my sight is up to that sharp quality I’d become used to in the daytime. In fact, by the time the sun begins to rise in the east, I can tell little difference between the old dark and new light. Except that the new light is painful for an hour.
I notice another novel phenomenon about eight hours later, the early afternoon of my second day. Though my eyes have maintained their fixture upon my tree at the bottom of the hill, it is no longer the bounds of my visual focus, slowly becoming. I first notice the tiniest bit a variance — that I am able to analyze the colors, texture and shape of neighboring trees just outside my immediate focal point. At such a distance, this requires immense attention, and tires me quickly. And then I relax for a moment, and feel my attention expand to immediately and effortlessly encompass those neighboring trees. Was this breakthrough at the success of my trained attention, or at the failure of it?
With my visual focus expanded just ever so much, my whole visual perspective shifts frames. Previously, I had been meditatively focussing on a tree in the distance along with peripheral fragments of its peers. Now, I am squinting from the inside of an blurred glass sphere with a minuscule clear spot in front of me kept just large enough to allow a distant tree and haphazard parts of its peers. This shift-of-perspective is sudden, and my next attentive action is just as sudden. I wipe away the dirty blur by expanding my attention in the same way I might have otherwise moved my eyes. The degrees of freedom are exhilarating. I notice for the first time the grass on the earth around me, the surface of the tree next to me, the cardinality of the clouds above, the smoothness of the lake off in the distance to my left. Areas of my attention escape the realm of vision, and incorporate other senses as well. The same microscopic detail I extracted of my originally-focussed tree I see, feel, hear, smell, and taste all around me.
I must have failed to notice nightfall again, because now the sun rises in a mark of the end of my first week. After just the first few days, it became easy to designate a line of leaves on the tips of trees along a mountain in the eastern distance to serve as measures of the sun’s progression longitudinally across the horizon each morning. After another week, the designation of these particular leaves has become so natural to me that it appears that the very essence of their shape and placement could stand for nothing else. Each leaf, in the context of the others, resembles a particular date like a pictogram.
How do I pass the time? When the hours crawled by like miles of walking, boredom ravished my willpower. I had barely enough to keep boredom at bay for a day. I spent my hours studying my tree, but only after just a couple days I knew every millimeter of the tree by memory, and no enjoyably-disruptive squirrels appeared to call it home. When I began to finally see around me, though, boredom became a vague memory. I could not even attempt to relate to it now. In just being conscious, endless content manifests around me. The hours tick by, so I avoid counting them as to not feel rushed. The world around me was clearly finite, but the sheer volume and density of things existing in parallel all in my one experience forces me to more preemptively structure my exploration. If I just randomly brush my attention around, I would never get to it all. I would never satisfactorily cover every sandy indent in the lake’s coast, the life of every hair on every animal in the borough hosted among the roots of the forty-second tree off to the northwest. I need to learn each of these things in their proper and complete order.
I seldom can notice the change from day to night anymore. The give-away used to be the appearance and disappearance of shadows, but the shadows’ paths have become so familiar to me that no matter their position they look like the same familiar shadows I expected them to be. My attention is busy unfolding the experience of novel things, and has little time to benchmark my progress by fully understood shadow-paths. The sun and moon’s journeys through the sky have come to appear as luminous streaks, where I can only discern the celestial body’s exact position if I take a momentary break from my usual investigations.
Now it is not that the breeze feels faster and stronger, or that the sun and moon cross the sky more quickly, or that the young plants at my feet sprout in a more animal-like way, compared to before my seating. Time passes at the same rate as it always has. What is so phenomenally new about my experience is the unmitigated throughput of my sensory intake. There is so much detail at different levels of temporal analysis that I start failing to notice that which is only relevant second-to-second. The growth of bark on a young sapling is an exciting thing to watch, but only if you are attentive to the day-by-day.
But why be restricted to this? Why not week-by-week? Year-by-year? I consider the sapling again, the particular one down in the grove next to the toads’ home and the collection of rocks I have not looked into yet. I want to see this fledgling tree bloom. The environment around the tree is fuzzy like grass in the distance, but also applied to the rocks and animals and other plants. This sapling in particular though is so precise and full of intent. It sways back and forth to the sun. Mosses and mushrooms skitter across the sapling’s thin skin. It looses a few nascent branches, but extrudes new ones in quick order. Finally it takes for mature heights in a decade’s quick spurt, finding new strength in the divergence, due to abrupt rock erosion, of a nearby stream towards its root system. The tree stretches its sprawling roots into the warm, moist dirt, feeling for all the best spots. It awakes in the rolling springs and reaches its branches in all directions to soak up the sweet sunlight.