PeerSpirit Newsletter – The Owl and the Tree
November 2020


Depth of Field

by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea

Depth of field is both a technical and philosophical term. Technically, depth of field applies to the ability of camera and binocular lenses to focus on distant objects while holding closer objects also in view. It’s fun to play with photographically. Sometimes you want depth of field, as illustrated below in Christina’s photo of the Zion Narrows, and sometimes you want fine focus close in and an artistic blur on everything else.

Imagine a group of birds flying across the sky in front of you. They are moving fast. You adjust your binoculars to see things far away, but your inexpensive binoculars can only “see” a very small circle at that 300 feet range. The birds fly through that circle before you can focus on them. More expensive binoculars with their finer lens can focus on a much larger circle out there enabling you to spot the birds and follow them long enough to identify what species they are. If you are a birdwatcher (like Ann, below), identification is a goal and depth of field is important.

While Ann has been relishing some fine autumn hours birdwatching (certainly a safe outdoor, socially distanced sport in these times!) Christina has been cycling through cataract surgeries, first one eye and then the other and her depth of field has been wonky for weeks. Her vision has clouded, cleared, fuzzed and focused on variations of adjustment to the new lenses implanted in her eyes and her brain’s adjustment to new ways of seeing.

Well, the metaphors in all this should be obvious! We need depth of field to navigate through these times—in the US and wherever you are reading this.Philosophically, depth of field applies to our ability to comprehend issues both in their immediacy and long-range impacts: to understand how that which is before us affects that which lies ahead of us. Depth of field is an applicable skill, a practice of shifting focus. The mind, heart, and eyes tire if we only look one way, one place, for too long a time.

Wouldn’t we all love to know when it is going to be COVID safe to rebook cancelled 2020 weddings, memorials, graduations, and reunions? Wouldn’t Americans appreciate reassurance that the January 20, 2021 inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris will happen with respect for the orderly processes of Democracy? Wouldn’t we love to offer our writing and wilderness retreats, see our grandchildren, hug our friends, go to the movies, and please get all the children back in school? Yes, we would. And it’s not that time yet.

We need to hold onto our depth of field, to look down at our feet and move through immediate surroundings with carefulness: what can I do here and now to make this a good day for myself and those I interact with? In our neighborhood we have been checking-in with one another consistently: sharing grocery shopping, dog-walking, end of the season yardwork. All these interactions are accompanied by conversations and stories that build community trust.

And we need depth of field to look out at the horizon: how can I contribute to where I want to see my community, country, world heading? For example: there is a lot of fear and misinformation streaming through media and on-line that destabilize our community trust. We use our words and actions to countervail conspiracy theories and threats of violence. Republicans and Democrats (as this division of worldview is named in the US), can work together to confront the fringes of left and right. The center is where depth of field flourishes and where trust can be maintained.

There is a significant amount of waiting in the collective field this winter (summer to our southern hemisphere friends). We are waiting for things to stabilize, get better, get safer. We are waiting for truth to be told, for science to produce a reliable vaccine, and for wiser minds to take charge of how we go forward. During this time of waiting we have work to do, both practical and preparatory. When the vaccine appears, if we just accept the push for a “return to normal”, we will have failed ourselves and the moment. The way forward is forward, not back.

A new book, Apollo’s Arrow, the Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live, by Nicholas A. Christakis (Little Brown) lays out the map of how the pandemic happened from a medical science perspective, and then takes the reader into a socio-political exploration of our responses.

“Epidemics end,” Christakis writes in his preface, “but how we get there defines us.” That is depth of field.

Our invitation here is for each and every one of us to bring our best wisdom, greatest honesty, and sincere caring forward to solve our own personal dilemmas in this precarious time—to be very attentive to what is happening right now. And the challenge is for us also to look beyond our personal situations and imagine how what we are doing will impact the future that we want to live in.