I Spy (Rarely)

Linda and I are doing our monthly drive to the Adirondacks, and she says, “Did you see all those turkeys by the side of the road – there were eighteen of them along with two jakes?” and I reply: “Nope, I’m watching the road.” She says, “Look at where those wildflowers used to be in the median, did you notice that they were mowed down.” I reply: “Nope, I’m watching the traffic.” She says, “Those guiderails are out of date, I wonder why the DOT hasn’t changed them?” I reply: “What guiderails?”

Now, the significant part of this interchange is that Linda is driving and I’m in the passenger seat. She notices every license plate and every person using their phone. She has stories about each of them. She spies every live creature. Our running joke is the vast amount of activity she takes in while driving — and in almost every other situation, actually — leaving me to wonder if I need new glasses or a brain transplant (where are you, Igor?). In my defense, I argue that one of us ought to be looking at the highway (but I know this is simply deflection – Linda is a good driver)!

Now, I am talking about observation while in motion… not the watchful stillness that challenges you to keep still and take in all the detail around you without reacting. I’m also not talking about forest bathing (which until recently I thought was washing in the woods). Most of the time, I am in motion – rushing to get something done, planning ahead, because I’m always behind. I miss a lot. For instance, Linda and I are on a walking path in Old Forge and we pass a property sprouting garden gnomes under a copse of old pines. When she stops to look, I remind her that we trying to achieve an aerobic experience. She replies: “Details are important – and you miss them. How many gnomes were there?” I say: “Seven… and Snow White was in the tree?” She says: “There were four gnomes — I really worry about you!”

Well, true dat! Then I read this contribution in Quora… and it got me to considering….

As Told by Jay Matthews in Quora:

A student visited a Zen master and was shocked to find him naked in his cabin.

The student said:

Why don’t you put on some pants?

The master replied:

The world is my body and this cabin is my pants.

What are you doing in my pants?

“This cute story is designed to get us thinking about whether awareness is actually located in the body.

When you look at a tree, where exactly does your looking stop and the tree begin?

What we call “the world” is a collection of sense-impressions. Beyond and apart from these impressions, there is no world. The Vedic sages had a brilliant way of describing this:

They said what we think of as the body, mind, and world can be better described as a series of layers, like Russian dolls.

The world” is visual, auditory, and tactile sense-impressions.
[I’d add gustatory and scent as well– wc]

The body” is impressions of pleasure or pain.

The mind” is emotions and thoughts.

When we don’t have any impressions, there is no world, body, or mind. When we have impressions, all three arise together.”

Linda clearly is open to the world-impressions. So what impressions am I working with? It seems to me that I tend to retreat inside mind-impressions. When I’m driving a distance, I either drift into daydreams or focus on counting regimented items, e.g., how many Walmart vs. Target trucks we pass. If I’m really inspired, I add Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Amazon. (If you’re interested, Walmart trucks generally out-number the rest of this group two-to-one). In order to remember the count, I keep repeating the count to myself (e.g., ‘28-9-5-3-1’) and so forth, upping the count with each new truck. Well, this becomes a mantra while I drive and after a while, I fall into a frame where the flow of traffic and branded highway haulers become a drumbeat.  My mind flows to another place. Is this meditation – or just a mind-numbing trance? Maybe I’m just an enumerator? Who knows?

Now, I’m curious — what do you spy, when you are in motion?

Return to Sloansville by LL Barkat

I close my eyes,
blot out one hundred
and fifty shale driveways
pickup trucks, Ford
pintos, trailers barely
tied to this ground
by wires, gas lines
cable TV.

I can still see
dirt road, Queen
Anne’s Lace, goldenrod
blue chicory,
field mice nesting
under leaning timothy
and the apple orchard
rooted beyond tall firs

where a woman
in navy sweat pants
and red Budweiser t-shirt
is just now hanging laundry
to drift upon the wind,
sing with ghosts
of spring white
blossoms, honeybees.

Observation in Motion

This topic has me puzzled.  I tried doing some research on how one makes observations while in motion; more specifically, what equips an individual to make accurate and lasting observations of unrelated objects while attending to the priority of safe driving?  Other than the scientific explanations of the role of neurons in the frontal section of the brain, I was unable to find any useful information.  This is likely due to my inability to construct a meaningful (to Google) question that gets at my intention.

In Wal’s scenario, Linda is able to read license plates, notices drivers talking on cell phones, and sees turkeys on the side of the road while safely driving but Wal, a passenger with no obvious responsibilities for arriving safely at their destination, does not.  Now one could infer that noting the license plates indicates where the cars are and how close, drivers on their cell phones could become distracted, and turkeys on the side of the road could decide to cross the road.  All of these are potential threats to safe driving and we could conclude that Linda is using her powers of observation to support her defensive driving mode.

I am rarely a passenger so I easily defer to my lack of seeing what my partner Teresa sees while we’re driving because I’m clearly focused on driving.  However, she too, observes far more details when driving than do I.  And, she too is a good driver.  So, in this sample of two – Linda and Teresa – one might point to a gender-based difference.  After all, based on Jose Mathew’s very clever and funny explanation (in my humble and biased opinion) of how men and women’s brains are wired, the explanation is quite evident! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQJTbCAAc6w)

Or is it possible that Wal and I notice different things to inform us to also drive safely?  Or, could we see the same things but send a latent message to our brain to ignore the details and focus only on the big picture of how any of these might impact our driving?  Is one style better than another in terms of driving safety? In a NY Times article written by Nicolas Bakalar on April 27, 2020 he states,  “Women tend to be better drivers than men — much better, judging by the number of deaths they cause on the road.”  And, in an article in The Blog, written by Rebecca Shambaugh in March of 2016 she states, “Women tend to absorb more information through their senses and store more of it in the brain for other uses than men do. Therefore, women generally have more interest in details and pay more attention to them than men do.”

While I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between safe driving and attention to details, based on these findings, I may want to spend more time training myself to use both sides of my brain more often than does a typical male!

I also suspect age may play a role here.  I process things much more slowly and tend to remember less, especially details.   Perhaps I used to see many more things while still paying attention to the road.  Of course, in my over-confident youthdom I may have done so without paying the attention I should have to my driving and was just lucky.  Unfortunately, I’ll never kqnow because…I can’t remember!

On the positive side, I’m grateful to Wal for posing this topic for consideration as I now find myself spending a little more time looking around at my surroundings while appreciating even more, Teresa’s ability to notice so much.

“All of us are watchers – of television, of time clocks, of traffic on the freeway – but few are observers. Everyone is looking, not many are seeing.” Peter M. Leschak

Do You See What I See?

I never gave this much thought until Wally brought the topic up. But since then, every time I drive now I’m paying attention to what I am observing.  I should start by saying that in general I am observant.  I usually observe the little details as opposed to the big picture! If I’m sitting on my porch looking out over the yard, I tend to notice not just visual things but noise as well, and smells.  But they usually aren’t the predominant visual, sound or fragrance.  I see the mole hole in my grass but not the gully formed by the rain running off the gutters. I hear the mourning dove on the garage roof before I hear the ambulance siren going down the street.  It must be just the way I’m wired! 

So now when I drive away from my house I am trying to catch myself observing things without purposely trying to manipulate what it is I am observing.  I haven’t had a ticket in 7 years so I am assuming I am an ok driver.  For two of those years I was driving to Vermont and back every weekend so I was putting quite a few miles on my jeep. What I have discovered is I study the cars around me. I don’t always identify the make as many of the models today all look similar.  But what I realized is, I study stickers and decals from places visited.  I get annoyed at the “Baby on Board” ones like if there aren’t babies can I crash into your rear end?  Or the cute little mommy and daddy with 5 or 6 little stickers next to them and maybe a pup or kitty.  I had to laugh the other day seeing such a sticker with 7 little stickers following them and someone finger wrote on the dust of the trunk, “how do you have time to even drive around?”  Something I might have written myself!   I also read license plates, especially the vanity plates and if I can’t figure out what it is supposed to be saying I invariably remark to myself, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”   Unfortunately, I don’t notice the big things, just the details! 

Now, here is something I realized I go out of my way to do when I am driving after dark and on local roads in my neighborhood.  I discovered I do it all the time when driving alone.  I look into people’s houses. Into windows that have lights on just to try to imagine what their lives are like. I like to see how the room is decorated and imagine their lives and then I develop an entire history of the family.  The husband is a school bus driver and his wife is a registered nurse. They have one daughter who is an honor student in high school.  Christmas times is especially fun to see the Christmas trees and decorations as I drive passed the bright windows.  If there is a silhouette that I can see from the car as I drive by, that is an added bonus and helps me fill

in the details of their boring or exciting life bed judging from what I observed as I passed by.  Making up stories about their lives just prevents me from getting bored while I’m driving.  If I am not near any buildings then I have to check out who is in the car next to me, assign a destination for them and a story as to why they are going there. 

Thanks Wal, I never realized how weird I am until now.  The observations are important but creating the stories that go along with them is really fun.  I’ll go away now!

2 thoughts on “I Spy (Rarely)

  1. “Of Trees and Forests”

    Set the stage before you raise the curtain,
    Engage the audience before you reveal the plot,
    Tell the story through the eyes of each player,
    Sit still and listen in the meadowed lot.

    Affirm the facts but filter the questions,
    Start with the whole and continue to the parts,
    Struggle to understand all events and moments.
    Take the time to visit their hearts.

    Peace is an exercise in active comprehension,
    Move your thoughts from you to others,
    For introspective calm is yours,
    When the flame of confusion is cold and smothered.

    But, know the forest first.
    Then, in time, be each tree.
    What is to be known is to be discovered,
    What is new is for you to seek.

    •Jack Caldwell (Summer 1993, revised 2003)


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