Two surprises to begin. When my daughter was little, on every St. Patrick’s Day, I would take her out in the neighborhood to look for leprechauns; maybe where the rascals had hidden their pot of gold. We’d sneak about on tippy toes, with stealthy, little-girl steps, looking sharp for anything green. (They wear green, see, that’s the clue.) On March 17 in Wisconsin there simply isn’t much green to be found. As in Maine, piles of wet, dirty-brown leaves, mud and every once in a while a tiny growing shoot of something or other reaching up.

Lee Van Dyke looked at this rock for years before he saw what was hiding in plain sight. Photo courtesy of Lee Van Dyke

As we silently walked along, I’d whisper to point out moss, she’d spot a tiny bit of clover. Then suddenly. Just at the side of the road, next to a tree, three wrinkled $20 bills. Probably some kid dropped ’em after a sale of some illegal sort went south, or possibly he ran too fast. But there they were tucked next to a curb. On a March wind-swept cold street holding a bit of surprise green. I scrambled to say that it might be an American version of a pot of gold. We’d never have seen the bills if we weren’t “looking sharp.” I really couldn’t think of how to find their rightful owner.

Moving further back to when I myself was little, on a Christmas eve, I was finally allowed to open presents. Not that I didn’t know what they were. Squeezed packages contained shirts, socks. Nothing very exciting, no chance of a real surprise. My mom said, “Hey look. What’s that?” She pointed to a string, which I hadn’t seen and was tied to a chair leg. It then moved down the hallway of our house. Following it along, we then went into the bathroom, moved up the side cabinet next to the wash basin, and then down the clothes chute. Now maybe not everyone remembers, but houses with a basements held a chute into which soiled clothes were dropped. Ours had a basket below which awaited. When I looked down the chute this Christmas, however, I saw tied to the string a dimly lit red and gray fat-tired coaster bicycle. Surprise! The same red and gray pinstriped beauty I’d first spotted at the local bike shop. Best Christmas surprise ever!

Yesterday, while dog-walking, I saw a knobbly end of a stump that looked quite like a chubby-cheeked leprechaun, like one of the old-guy Muppets. A forest wrinkled tree-knot critter. I’d never seen it before. Believe me, I hadn’t been smoking a single legal thing. I was just giving the morning a new look. Or the November light was showing it in a new way.

Speaking of which, one recent morning I looked out my kitchen window and saw a huge, oversized, giant woodcock, perched and supervising all those who ventured along the path at the side of my property. It was the same rock that had been resting there for years, mind you. On this morning in a beam of light I saw that I had been looking past the thousand-pound bird hiding there in plain sight. When we look at things in a new light, maybe that’s when we surprise ourselves. Is that the best surprise of all?

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