On my walk this morning, along Big Papio Trail here in suburban Omaha, I saw fireflies. Interesting little suckers, those guys. The precise color and blink pattern varies by species. I know I saw at least two blink patterns. The trail is in a well developed area, along a watercourse greenbelt where I usually hear owls and nighthawks, but there’s plenty of artificial light sources nearby. Sometimes I would confuse a distant streetlight flickering through tree leaves with the moving parallax of my own walking pace with a firefly.
Fireflies are like stars, also. At least from a distance. Up close they’re inescapable, and when one would flash very near to me, my eye would follow it automatically for the foot or two of flight before the flash went off. Farther away, they were easier to see out of the corner of my eye. The best way to spot them was to gaze ahead, unfocused, as I followed the trail, and pay careful attention to my peripheral vision.
In doing this I found another effect. I was perceiving occasional flashes of white light from above. This morning the cloud cover was pretty low and dense, producing a very desultory rain as I walked. I finally decided there was a higher-altitude lightning storm, and I was seeing the flashes masked by the low-altitude cloud deck. But I never would have seen any of that if I hadn’t been using the edges of my perception to watch the fireflies.
The creative process is like that. Staring at an idea can be very informative, but it can also overexpose the concept and blind you to deeper, more obscure nuances. Working from the corners, through misdirection and lateral perception, can open you up to things you would never have noticed in the bright light of day. Corners have always been a lot more interesting to me than middles. Early this morning, I learned a little bit more about why.