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STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Binoculars are for the birds

STELLPFLUG COLUMN: Binoculars are for the birds

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We no longer need a magnifying glass to ignite tinder, but the uses today are innumerable. Threading a needle, removing a sliver and, of course, heart surgery, to name a few. Magnifying images, whether it’s a map—which few people do these days—or using a high-powered microscope for scientific research, is quite a contribution to the world.

Bird watching is a wonderful use of binoculars to identify a species, appreciate the uniqueness of a beak or subtle wing design. Telescopes make sky watching an amazing and wondrous activity. But having said all that, do we need to see everything up close and personal?

Aren’t there times we can enjoy a flock of swans flying overhead without visual assistance? Can we enjoy the majestic beauty without seeing the imperfections of a wing or the injury on a bill or leg?

Watching a live stage production is a gift in itself. Do we need opera glasses that accentuates the mole on the actor’s chin and the spittle being released during the solos?

Remember the scene in “Jurassic Park”—the first movie and definitely the best one—where Dr. Ellie Sattler falls to her knees overwhelmed with sadness at the triceratops laying on the ground in great distress. She frantically begins digging in the humungous pile of feces to determine what had taken her down. By sight and smell alone she determined the cause of its malady. That medical determination required no further investigation, dissection or magnification, just deduction.

In days gone by, grandmothers in some cultures could detect infections by smelling urine, also requiring no additional consultations. Just because we have all the latest technology, doesn’t mean we can’t engage all our senses as well. Using our own sight, hearing, smell, and touch, we can determine a lot of the world around us, and maybe experience it in a personal and unique way.

When we look through binoculars at a bird, we might feel removed from what we are seeing, even though the lens has enlarged its apparent size. The fine feathers in the circles could be from anything, even my duster. When we put the glasses down, we see the majestic flight, the surrounding sky and trees and the maneuvers it makes alone or in its flock.

Some things are best seen from a distance, or not at all. The backroom of an old restaurant or the operating room after a major surgery come to mind. A work of art offers more when standing back, and an orchestra can be heard more fully when seated a distance from the stage.

Those magnifying mirrors in hotel rooms can ruin the beginning of a perfectly good vacation day. Hang a towel over them if they are attached to the wall. Who really wants to see that new brown spot, zit or pore early in the morning, or any time for that matter?

I know all the miraculous and positive uses of microscopic devices. Identifying microorganisms, and seeing micro structures to see how they work are integral to science. As for spotting galaxies millions of light years away, help from technology is much appreciated.

On the other hand, taking away the mystery, the magic, the unadulterated beauty of the world around us is not always necessary. Doesn’t it seem like stripping our imagination by giving us more than we need? It seems unkind to take away the big picture for minutia. The night sky is more than enough most evenings with just a tip of the head.

Sherlock Holmes made his discoveries by observation. Although often pictured with a magnifying glass, he truly used his keenly trained mind to view the big picture for his deductions.

Observing details and patterns, making connections and looking closely with the naked eye, along with all our senses might help us see what is right in front of our noses.

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at


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Michael Paul Williams — a columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. — won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Commentary "for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

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