To live is to see, I always believed, along the waterfronts of Manhattan, Mumbai and Mombasa, gorges in the Himalayas and Alpes, Maritimes, Alaska, Uganda. What could be better? I stuttered badly for more than 50 years so I couldn’t ask for directions. My eyes were my joy but also my salvation, figuring out directions, not to mention faces, because a stutterer must spot the bullies before they home in on him. Punching them is no solution, when the bully is the one who gets to explain to the policeman how the trouble started while your face contorts like a gargoyle’s under pressure of trying to speak.

But the glory of God and why to live was to see before I went blind. My dreams are still technicolored, and architectured in astonishing detail, both the cities and hillside villages. Ridgelines recapitulate real wildernesses that I soft-footed through during my eight decades, eyeing leopards or leopard seals. Four continents worth of railway trains. Maybe you get the blindness “you deserve,” as they say of old men’s faces. But it does tick-tock: the extraordinary kindness of strangers or their impatience, and your equanimity or frustration. It’s a mily way one walks, tapping a cane to find the curb, but whereas blindness darkens the light, it strangely appears to whiten the dark. Not in a utilitarian way but as though the optic nerves are rebelling, pretending or imagining they have discovered their own light source. The skim milk of daylight turns the color of thick cream for a moment as my eyelids close in bed at night.

But will I never see cerulean blue again? Or paintings in a museum, a play or movie, or TV histrionics? My glaucoma held off from shutting me down for a quarter of a century, but now I shop for a white cane in case anybody remembers white as the old-time symbol of blindness before medical science conquered so much of it. Grandkids presumably used to lead codgers like me around at the end of a stick as I’ve often seen them still do in Africa.

The subtleties of a sunrise or even a menu can’t be scanned any more. Nor a friend’s face for distress — you’ll need to reach out and feel their cheek for tears. Music becomes the bread of life, plus a collage of news and ego tainted shows on the radio. We fill the bird feeder but don’t see the birds, although a thousand leaves still seethe against the sky in a fair wind, and the surf at the beach voices nature’s ultimate sway. I love the roar, like moonlight but the spindrift is lost on me. Books are on tape, with actors adding a frisson, and there are tax breaks. I remember my pet garter snakes when they shed their skins going blind for a spell, and old dogs with cataracts still securely loved. The crabby blind, whether man or dog, do not fare well, but they get an extra minute’s benefit of the doubt. Sans teeth, sans eyes, as Shakespeare characterized old age; so most people recognize that the affliction may eventually beset them too, but one can’t buy false eyes.

Habitual handwriting scribblers like me face a reckoning when they attempt to decipher names and phone numbers from address books and scraps of notation. Your cat will learn to skitter to avoid being stepped on, and rugs bunch up from clumsy feet. I walk in the street when I can because the pavement will be better maintained than the sidewalk. Falling is an art, of course, in order not to bust an elbow or whatever. I seldom fall, but was hit by a car a year ago, having lost my peripheral vision. I refused an ambulance ride though for the ironic reason that my corneal replacement surgery was scheduled in four days and the surgeon would have canceled it if he learned that I had suffered a concussion.

Being blind is rough, Bronze star worthy let’s claim, and proves the adage I’ve traveled with for many a year: that you should trust (almost) everybody a little but nobody a lot. Everyone tick-tocks. Compassion and selfhood; miser and big heart. The average dog, I suspect, experiences this tick-tock from its owner too.

But I tick-tock. Peace and turmoil. Self-pity versus stalwart common sense. To live is to see was my lifelong motto, from Antarctica to the Chukchi Sea, yet Descartes said famously “I think, therefore I am.” Has anyone more time to think than a blind man? Of course reading, moseying visually, sprout food for thought. Raw materials are imbibed by the gift of eyesight. I had mine for 80 years, how about a Caresian spell. I could rock on the porch reviewing friendships I’ve enjoyed during periods lived on Jane street in New York city, Pinckney in Boston, or in Venice, or Wyoming. Should I have written about Paris or Rome, instead of assuming they had been covered? I did “do” Chengdu and Sana’a, but sufficiently?

Philosophical cogitation is not my strong suit, however, so thinking about the implications to our Judeo-Christian culture of the new astronomical discoveries and perspective, as our Earth is now compared to a marble in a seven-mile solar system, are not the boon of my decade of blindness it could be for a junior Descartes.

But the dwindling, not the expansion, of nature alarms me, and to live indeed was to see. Our cultural dilution is another story, but I saw the Brahmaputra and the Kuskikwin, the Hoosac and the Thames, the Yangtze and the Spatsizi. Not Cartesian, yet the life I chose.

Edward Hoagland is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of essays. He lives in Edgartown.