Small Awe

I heard a program on the radio as I was driving back from Albuquerque today. It was about “Awe.” What is it? Where does it come from? What does it mean? How does it make you feel? It was interesting to hear the wide range of awe-inspiring things that people all over the world identify as giving them that spine-tingling, teary, jaw-dropping, out-of-body feeling that we call awe. Here are a few of the categories that I remember:

  • Nature: rainbows, clouds, mountain peaks, ocean waves, hurricanes, a mother doe and fawn
  • Art and music:  a Michelangelo, Mozart, an elegant building, dance, choral singing
  • Huge life moments:  being present at a birth, or a death, feeling the enormity and fragility of the miracle of life
  • A greater power:  the sense that there is something bigger than ourselves, something that is guiding us, something that binds us all together

I can’t argue with any of the above. I can imagine being awestruck by any of those experiences. But interestingly, the moments that came to mind were small, very small.

It was a wintry March in Santa Fe, snowflakes swirling in a bitter wind as I hurried from the house to the car. I looked down and saw a tiny flower, the tiniest daisy imaginable, the size of my pinky finger nail. There it was, alive, brave, determined to offer the world a speck of beauty. It was peeking up, all alone, next to a rock at the edge of the driveway. I was stunned. I stooped down and spoke: “Who are you?” A strange question, but I meant it. I felt I was meeting a remarkable fellow inhabitant of the planet.  I spent time getting to know my little comrade, crouching, staring, watching the snow flakes land on its tiny face. It is amazing how vivid this is, decades later. Surely that was awe.

Of course this is not my daisy. But imagine just one, as tiny as this, with snowflakes flying.

And just yesterday, another moment. It is unbearably hot here in Santa Fe. No matter we are at 7,200 feet, it is in the 90s day after day, we even reached 100 last week. For whatever reason, along with the heat came a huge squadron of flies, inside the house, buzzing at the windows, landing on the counter, driving us crazy. The sticky flycatcher caught one, by accident I’m sure. So we resorted to old-fashioned fly swatters. I had trouble with the first one, even muttered an apology before smashing it on the wall. After that it was easy and I swatted dozens of them every morning with no remorse. Roberto followed me with a hand-held vacuum sucking up the corpses. Then yesterday afternoon I saw one that he missed…and it was moving along the tiled floor! How could this be? I knelt down and saw an ant – much smaller than the fly — carting its treasure across the floor to some unknown destination. 

I was filled with awe. Again, a fellow inhabitant of this planet was at work, carrying out a mission, the details of which I couldn’t understand, but the commitment, the determination, the belief that was the best use of its short life — that I could definitely relate to. I talked to the little laborer, as I did the flower, expressing admiration, and asked permission to take his (or her) picture.

I know I will remember that exchange for a long time, as I have the conversation with the flower. Small moments, tiny creatures, insignificant by many measures, can be just as awesome as the big, flashy ones. It just takes a sharp eye and the willingness to think small. And come to think of it, connecting on an intimate level with another species so far from our own feels…huge.


22 thoughts on “Small Awe”

  1. Beautiful, Lucy! I love this reminder to look at small, maybe mundane things with a new eye and new appreciation.

  2. Your daisy sounds like a tiny portal. It made me think of an Emily Dickinson poem painted inside the bus stop near our house in Greenlake (Seattle).
    Pink—small—and punctual—

    Pink—small—and punctual—
    Covert—in April—
    Candid—in May—
    Dear to the Moss—
    Known to the Knoll—
    Next to the Robin
    In every human Soul—
    Bold little Beauty
    Bedecked with thee
    Nature forswears

  3. Thank you for this reminder to take time to notice and appreciate the beautify in small things; they are what restore balance and peace in our hectic lives.

  4. [deleted material] That being said, the other awe inspiring events for me are listening and arranging for instrumental guitar, (D6 tuning-aka Wahine. learned it when I lived on Maui) the music of the Beatles. I am endlessly fascinated by their music: the composition, the chords, the harmonies, the lyrics etc. All these years of listening to them, I still find incredible stuff. How about John Lennon’s harmony on If I Fell?? Also, the compositions of the blind 18th century Irish harpist, Turlough O’Carolan. I played two of them on my Martin Custom at my mother’s memorial: Blind Mary and Shebag Shemoore.

    1. Hi Brent and let me explain. I deleted the first couple of sentences of your comment. I appreciate your passion, but I work hard to keep this space safe for all who want to enter. These days this means being careful not to add to the ever-increasing divide in this country. I hope you understand, and I welcome the rest of your comment, which makes me want to turn on some music.

  5. Thanks Lucy, for sharing those experiences. Yesterday, I too had an awesome experience courtesy of a small creature: a daddy (mommy?) long-legs prisoner in our bathtub. I put my hand down next to it, coaxing it to hop aboard for a ride to a more suitable environment. It’s escape velocity was amazing. Second try, second escape. On the third try, I explained that not only would it be released from its prison, but it would be transported back to its homeland. It climbed onto my hand, four legs on my thumb and four on my index finger. Yes, I too was transported.

  6. Love this AWESOME report! For me this summer it was Jonny Jump-ups, tiny pansy-looking purple and yellow plants a friend gave me a little handful for the yard. They jumped out of the oval planter and began their march across the flagstone patio, appearing between the cracks, then amazingly jumped high up into a standing planter five feet high and took over the whole darn thing. Now they’re heading out across the yard, and appearing here and there in pots of other flowers, with no end in sight! What a gift!

  7. I have long conversations with spiders in my bathroom, thanking them, or asking them to move. Long discussions with my new plants in my tiny backyard, and amazing brave trees and flowers in my even smaller front yard and neighbors yards. It’s an awesome world, and hard to distinguish small from large awe sometimes. The small ones seem to grow in importance. Thanks for the reminder, as always. Lucy! Or awe-ways.

    1. Awe-ways happy to hear from you, Zena! Thanks for the vivid picture of your tiny encounters. Miss seeing you, and hope you are well.

  8. I love this, Lucy. After hearing an awe scientist interviewed, I’ve started opening meetings and workshops with the question, share one small thing that inspired awe in you in the last day or so. It really shifts people into a creative place – which is what our hearts tell us and what science tells us! For me, every day when I see the hummingbirds diving into the flowers I planted for them it makes my heart skip a beat.

    1. That is brilliant, Deb. Thanks so much. I’m going to keep that in my back pocket when a group needs to settle and connect with what’s truly important, and also what they have in common.

      1. Dear Lucy, so lovely to read these musings. Reminds of my favorite teaching by Thoreau who found he’d entered the woods thinking distracted “worldly” thoughts. To still, today we say to presence, himself, he looks to details of nature to center himself.

        I love the excel use on aware of your friend. If I may fit a forthcoming retreat, read your letter Lucy and then turn to the awe exercise of your friend (I can’t recall or access her name as I write this note). It would be lovely to hear from you at

  9. The moment of considerate communion with total strangers that one experiences at a four-way stop. I always think, “Why can’t countries behave like this?”

    1. Wow, I know just what you mean. Or when there is a power outage and the traffic lights are all blinking red in all directions. I marvel at how orderly and patient everyone is. Thanks so much, Carlota.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *