How many times have thought you heard or saw something only to realize it was nothing—just a trick of the eye, the shadow of a bird or only the wind. In fiction, those ‘only the wind’ moments tempt the storyteller with hints of the paranormal or raise the specter of a fraught memory. While in real life, only the wind is usually only the wind and not a portent of something more intriguing.
The fact that most of our fanciful imaginings amount to nothing is beside the point because our brains are designed to seek out patterns and to assess the danger of what we observe. It’s the nature of the beast. On a grand scale our ancestors named constellations of stars—seeing shapes formed with lines between the lights in the night sky—and on an individual level we see shapes in clouds, flames, shadows and in the rustling of curtains. We create stories out of the patterns we see wherever we look.
I was visiting Oatlands—once one of the largest and richest plantations in Virginia—and I was taken by an old Osage Orange tree. The twisting, nubby, roots pushing above the ground and its tangle of textures on its trunk. I absolutely saw a face in one protrusion. Not just any face—a lion’s face.
When I pointed it out to my friends, I didn’t say “see the lion’s face” I chose instead to say, “Looks like a face, right?” And one of them replied, “A lion’s face.”
I have to wonder how many people, over decades have looked at that old tree and see the bumps forming into a lion. Perhaps it initially appeared to be the face of a bearded man? Or, maybe, another creature? But time and luck working in tandem with our pattern seeking human minds found a LION on the tree.
This makes me wonder about what and how and why we see certain shapes. They must come from our frame of reference. What would a woman who had never seen a lion—or even a picture of a lion—see in that particular arrangement of lumps and bumps of bark? A Monster? A Minotaur?