Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 7:42 am | Fair 44º


Captain’s Log: Dad’s Lesson About Discovery

Sit quietly and observe for long enough, and life is abundant in even unexpected places

I’m compelled to share one of the most important lessons of my life.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

Driving for hours through the Mojave Desert and seeing nothing much alive out the window, I suddenly said a really dumb thing to my dad and subsequently got a great lesson of life.

Bear with me here, because I was only 7 years old at the time. What happened after my dumb statement has very much to do with the reason I am now qualified to write an outdoors column and am blessed with a wonderful interactive connection with nature.

“It sure is dead out there!” is the dumb thing I said. Mere seconds later, the car was screeching to a halt off the side of the deserted desert back road. My dad calmly eyed me for a long moment, opened his door and said, “Come with me, son.”

We walked a quarter-mile into the desert and stopped. He pointed to a rock 50 yards ahead. He told me to walk slowly and quietly to that rock and sit down. He said to look down and wait for 10 full minutes without moving a muscle. I listened to the rest of his instructions, then walked slowly and quietly to my assigned duty station.

I sat down, lowered my head and waited. I thought for sure my watch was broken because 10 minutes is a completely different length of time to a 7-year-old than it is to an adult. But I knew my dad, and his instructions came with a reason. After all, he grew up as a mountain man in the wilds of Washington state, then fought in two theaters of war in World War II. You just didn’t argue with the ol’ top sergeant. After what seemed like two hours, 10 minutes had really elapsed.

I slowly raised my head and looked about while remaining as motionless as possible. I visually marked a circle around me 10 yards out, as I had been instructed. I began to count the living things I saw within that circle. My eyes grew wide as I realized I was surrounded by more critters than I thought could possibly live anywhere — much less someplace I had considered a dead zone.

There were ants, bugs, reptiles, birds and even a rabbit (missing the rabbit earlier just floored me). I lost count after considerable time of honestly observing and counting.

I got up and walked back to my dad. He asked me how many living things I had seen, and I told him I had lost count, but that there were hundreds of critters, and told him about many of them. He smiled and nodded his head, pleased with me. He could see from my expression and excitement that the lesson had a great impact on me. He might have been pleased with both of us at that point and gone back to the car, but that just wasn’t the way he worked.

He asked me how many types of plants I had seen. I wasn’t ready for that one and replied, “Plants?” He replied quietly, “Back to the rock.” Then he chuckled and said, “You don’t have to sit quietly this time, though, because you’re not likely to spook a plant.” As you can imagine, there were many types of plants to be counted.

I have never looked at any quiet place the same since that day. I know I can find life if I don’t spook it and if I observe closely for an honest amount of time. I invite you to do the same. Pick a spot, perhaps in one of our neighborhood creek beds, or in a field or up in the mountains, or maybe take a trip to the desert. Sit quietly and observe. I am certain you will find it to be an exercise of discovery and enjoy it immensely.

This good land we live on is chock full of lifeforms to share it with.

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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