Nowadays animals and flowering plants doing interesting things are relatively hard to come by here, not only because it's winter but because of the drought. The landscape is brown and dusty, the tall grass in fields and along roads has faded gray and bear no flowers or grains, and their blades are brittle and tattered.

So, instead of wildflowers we look at lichens and algae. Instead of mammals and birds, it's insects and snails. This is worth thinking about.

For, it's easy enough just to accept winter's monotony and grayness, while a certain mental switch is needed to go from scanning fields with binoculars to surveying rock surfaces with a magnifying glass, and a certain mindset must be cultivated before you can thrill to graceful pirouettes of a paramecium in a drop of water, when swallows aren't available in the sky.

For me, two main reasons make these efforts to change perspective worthwhile. First, it's just fun to discover all these rare, unusual and otherwise gorgeous and mind-boggling living things around me, which I've overlooked until now.

Second, on a spiritual level, it's comforting to see that the Universal Creative Impulse devotes exactly as much energy and art arranging details of the microscopic world as we see every day in the workings of macroscopic forests and fields. This supports the idea that the entire Universe is exquisitely ordered at every level. And since it appears that everything everywhere is changing, is evolving, then there must be some kind of plan. I can't resist the mental image of the Universe as an opening blossom, with us humans as part of that blossoming, looking around, in awe. That's the notion in which my spirituality is rooted.

Of course there's the same message -- in some ways even more vividly expressed -- when we shift our minds to "focus up," to behold the details of the unknowably vast and complex Universe beyond Earth.

Everywhere, everywhere, there's attention to detail, everything working smoothly, everything just as it should be, gradually evolving toward... what?