The Eye in the Tree

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

In a recent feature on Orion magazine’s Web site, the editors asked me this question: “Does technology merely distract us from the natural world—or can it help us gaze more intently at its varied forms?”

My article, answering that question, is here. In it, I described how I spend more time carrying a camera than a fishing rod, these days. And I wrote:

I find that the camera makes me slow down and look more intently than I normally would. After one hike, I was sitting at my computer, reviewing photos of rock patterns and tree bark. I was suddenly startled by something I had not seen when I took the picture.

Hidden in the bark was an eye, looking back at me.

When I posted the address to the Orion article on my Facebook page, one reader asked me to publish the actual photograph. A wonderful conversation ensued. People posed their theories as to just who’s eye that was, if it was an eye. One mother showed it to her son, and he concluded that the eye belonged to a dragon. I went with her son’s theory.

What do you think? Here’s the photo.

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The eye is just right of center and up a bit. See it? It sees you.

Author David Sobel (“Wild Play”) and film maker Camilla Rockwell and I discussed this topic and more during Orion’s live web event in June, “Reimagining Nature Literacy.” Listen to a recording of the conversation here.”


Richard Louv is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network.


  1. Maybe it’s my eye. Much of what we see has more to do with what we bring to the transaction than what may or may not actually be there.

  2. I always have my camera in my hand! I too feel that looking back at our photos allows us to see things and study nature in a way that we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to with the naked eye!

  3. Very “in-tree-ing” Richard! I’d say it’s the “eye of nature” – nature keeping a watchful eye over the children…and rooting for them like we Bark Buddie Trees do everyday! Looks like it might be one of my relatives except most of us have green eyes. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    ~Big Bark Buddie Tree
    World’s Biggest Celebri-Tree

  4. I use technology a great deal, especially a camera. I am an environmental educator and see technology as can a tool to help me do what the Project WILD activity’s title suggests: Looking and Seeing. There is a significant difference between looking at something and seeing it. We tend to look at a great deal and as a result of being bombarded with advertising, fast passed technology, we tend to do more “selective looking,” one step below even looking at the world around us. So the art of actually seeing, probing, thinking, reflecting on what we see beyond the cursory is being further eroded because of choice, convenience, and protection of our space.

    I am not sure that technology is the cause of our looking ever more narrowly than our parents and their parents. The reason I believe we are not seeing is a reflex to protect ourselves from increasing blitzes of media and pseudo experiences. Yet many universities are touting the on-line classes as something that is more convenient way to learn. This seems counterintuitive to me because it is one step away from the actual, the experience of hands-on learning. So our lives are becoming more engaged with the digital world in spite of our need for what a song lyric suggests, “a cool change.”

    Certainly we cannot exist in the world without technology lest we hide our heads in the sand. Yet I remember the words of a colleague that said to me: “You are taking pictures to capture a moment. Why don’t you just experience the moment not tied to anything other that looking and seeing?”

    I used to regret not having my camera in the woods, a stream, a mountain. Not as much any more, since I now am seeing more and looking less through the lens of my camera. Instead I am seeing through my own eyes and senses. It is cool respite from the indoor world and the technology that runs my life on a daily basis.

    • Richard Louv

      Beautifully said, Joe, especially this: “The reason I believe we are not seeing is a reflex to protect ourselves from increasing blitzes of media and pseudo experiences.”

  5. I decided to start an invetory of as many life forms as I could at Ramsey Creek, and without the web at home (great bug sites-including my camera it would be an exercize in frustration. Now I appreciate that the field of what I presumed to be “broome sedge” is a diverse assemblage of various grasses. What I lumped together as “bumble bees” are way interesting-including Cemolobus ipomoeae, a species that is dependent on morning glory like plants. It is like learning to see in color. But without my computer I would need access to a pretty vast library. And it would be slower indeed.

    • Richard Louv

      Thanks, Billy, and thanks for your continued good work on green burials, on which I report in “The Nature Principle.”

  6. Hello Richard, Interesting discussion. You may remember (we met in San Francisco), Rob Badger and I are working on a book “Impressions of Spring: “Wildflowers of the West on Our Public Lands” whose message, both photographically and through words, will be to encourage people of all ages to slow down and see what is around them. As we all know once people connect to the natural world around them they will be more likely moved to protect them.
    I believe cameras can get in the way of the experience or they can enhance it. It depends on how we use them. If we hide behind them and don’t see, feel and smell what is around them then it is a loss. If we use them as a tool take a more intimate look into the life around us to is an experience we will never forget.
    I am sad to say that I have seen too many people just drive to a location, jump out of the car, “snap” a photo to prove we were there (and maybe try to experience it later in the comfort of their own homes), jump back into the car and head to the next location to do the same thing day after day.
    Rob and I have spent up to two hours photographing one flower and have a very intimate experience with this beautiful living thing. It is like a treasure hunt for us. The excitement of the find is always accompanied with an awareness of the sounds and smells around us. The temperature and strength of the wind is all part of the experience. These are all remembered when we view our photographs or just when we are reflecting on the trip.
    When we have taken other people out to the field to photograph or just for a hike (with very frequent stops to explore the wildflowers around us) we find over time they learn to see differently.
    We took two friends out to the desert in southern California during a 100 year bloom. During the first couple of days Almira (who had never been camping nor been to the desert before) repeatedly asked me “How did you see that (tiny) flower?” I answered: “I don’t really know except that my eyes and mind have been trained to look for them.” We spent 5 magical days together camping and photographing wildflowers in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Within a couple of days it was clear that Almira way of seeing had changed and she was repeatedly finding these flowers on her own. We were later told that her drive back to LA was a completely different experience from the trip out to the desert. She said she saw so many things she had never “seen” before. I was so thrilled to hear that. I know once someone experiences this they will never lose this ability to “see.”
    Could we have had the same experience without the cameras? Maybe but now we have the photographic records we made during that trip to remind us of the joy and magic of being out there and the amazing diversity, design and balance found in nature. Now we can also share this experience and magic with others who have never had such an experience.

  7. I love that you captured this photo in the moment and now it has brought all of us together to appreciate the beauty of nature as it is. It is like moments we spend with our children looking at the clouds or the bare branches or rocks on the beach and sharing what we see. Yes! I see the dragon! It is wonderful to be in nature and experience it deeply with all our senses. It is also wonderful to capture nature in the moment and bring it home with us to reconnect us during our days that are often filled with technology. A moment to gaze back on a photo or listen to the gulls and waves at the beach from our captured video on our digital camera brings rest and a gentle smile to my day. It also reminds me to fill my days with more moments in nature and we actively seek that out as a family.

  8. Robert Michael Pyle

    Rich et al,
    The range of comments nicely covers the situation. This is clearly a different-strokes-for-different-folks question. A wonderful eye, wonderfully spotted. As for me, I stopped taking pictures when the technology changed. For many years I had taken many slides, and used them professionally for lectures and books as well as for our own pleasure and sharing. I still employ the photographs of others for the same purposes, and still enjoy them in books as much as I did with Elliott Porter and David Brower’s old “exhibit format” books published by the Sierra Club in the 60s, which so helped in building a clientele for conservation. But I found that viewing the world in 35mm slices became limiting for me, and the frustration I felt in “missing” a picture, failing to change the ASA, or the like, severely detracted from the actual experience. I also found I have no patience for pics in pixels on a disc or a screen, as opposed to in-hand. So I used the digital divide to bail. Now I take only mental pictures, and make word-pictures (my stock in trade), and am happier for it.

    But I would never dream to suggest that anyone else should adopt my approach, for I see how valuable cameras are to others. My own essential technology consists of a nearly forty-year-old pair of little Leitz binoculars, which are virtually a part of my body. They are barely post-Galileo in development–but they ARE technology, and I don’t want to imagine doing without them (reversed, they are a hand-lens for close-up). I too enjoy and appreciate BugGuide, etc., on the internet, alongside my traditional library. To each his/her own. Tech can certainly be distancing, when it substitutes for or gets in the way of the real thing; but can also be connecting, as you and your commenters have testified. The main thing, as far as I am concerned, is to ATTEND to the physical world, and truly connect to it, through whatever means seem suitable for each of us.

  9. A baby dragon eye for sure!


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