A friend of mine recently noted that when you see something that you used to see constantly but have not seen in a long time, it's like a puzzle piece snaps into place in your eyes.
Where I grew up in the city there used to be wooded areas, which are now mostly gone; those wooded areas in the fall were layered with millions of these:
I never knew what these were, aside from missiles to fling at one another; I have it on good authority that they make great snowman eyeballs. Where I live now, less than fifty miles away, I have never seen one, but these seed pods (which indeed is what they are) come from the Sweetgum tree, which is all over New York City.
Liquidambar styraciflua is a lovely tree, with a distinctive gator-skin bark. I never realized how common it is in the city, nor how less-common it is even close by. They are distinctive enough that a grove of these trees was donated by September 11 Memorial organizers in New York for use in the memorial of Flight 93 in Shanksville. From our heart to yours.
I was in the city recently, in a park, and realized a billion of these pods were all over the path, and had that puzzle-eye moment. I never cared enough about nature as a kid to know anything about plants, but I could hum you the theme of every cartoon and game show on TV. Now, though, I was curious. I'm surprised I even remembered these enough to be so struck. Took some Googling to find out what they were.
Sometimes I feel like I've had a much deeper, richer life than I know, if I'd only paid more attention to it. I'm glad my memory managed to catch things that didn't seem important at the time, though. If it's true that our life flashes before our eyes when we die, I may be in for a hell of a surprise by what I see. I just hope I can be thoughtful enough when I see it to appreciate the Director's work.