By James M. Jackson
One thing I find fascinating is discovering what other people notice. When I walk with friends in the woods, I am most attuned to flying things: birds, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and recently, different species of bees. I notice bird calls and catch glimpses of them flitting between trees or soaring above us. Lower to the ground, I spot butterflies sampling the nectar from flowers, and as I look closer, I notice a variety of bees (and start thinking I really should buy a good bee field guide). I cheer on the dragonflies and their cousins the damselflies as they clear the air of smaller insects—particularly mosquitoes.
Hunting friends often point to tracks I don’t notice until they show them to me. They recognize small smudges in mud and disturbances of downed leaves as clues to who has wandered by since we were last there.
On a walk with a botanist friend, she identified plants I had scarcely noticed and speculated on what had transpired to allow that plant to exist in its space. (A dying tree here provided nourishment; a slight depression there gathered more water than surrounding areas; a log skidder compressed the soil, preventing this and allowing that.)
One friend spots interesting rocks; another homes in on blueberry and raspberry plants with edible fruit. Even if I were looking for cool rocks or trying to fill my bucket with wild berries, they will find things I walked past.
Walking a city street, one of us notices everyone’s clothing. Another catches all the advertisements. A third notices building materials. A fourth characterizes strangers based on the way they walk, or tilt their heads, or make or avoid eye contact. One friend takes galumphing steps and never trips over roots or cracked sidewalks, while another stumbles over everything as they shuffle along, their feet never more than a micrometer or two above the ground (or so it seems).
We each see the world differently. Skilled authors use these differences to make their characters come alive. What do you notice that others don’t? What do you wish you would pay closer attention to?
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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. Full of mystery and suspense, these thrillers explore financial crimes, family relationships, and what happens when they mix. Furthermore, a novella is the most recent addition to the series. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com.
Always amazes me how we each can perceive a scene so differently and are attuned to different things.
Debra - And yet, rather than benefit from the insight gathered from various perspectives, those in power have a tendency to exclude those with different backgrounds and agree there is only one way to see something.
I think you should write more about your nature experiences. You are a nature-al
Susan -- got me smiling.
Sometimes I see everything in a kaleidoscope, but in writing that can be overwhelming (and boring.)
I try to pick out details I hope can conjure up more of an image than they say. "A well-scrubbed kitchen table" suggests a type of kitchen to me; "substantial women in flowered aprons" expands that image.
Great post, Jim. It always amazes me how we see things differently. I find I key on what wasn't there before. It keeps me looking for the little things. I envy those who can identify birds by song - not a skill I will ever have - except for cardinals!
Great stuff! I'm still admiring the enormous mushrooms that have sprouted in the past two weeks.
Great noticing of noticers, Jim. I love walking with toddlers. We often don't get far because something like an ant on the sidewalk or a stick and a patch of dirt or sand will catch their attention.
I'm not sure what others notice so it's hard to answer that question, Jim. I do know that I can often feel/tell/experience when our old truck has a problem when others don't notice anything wrong with it. I think others make more assumptions than I do or they stereotype people more often than I do. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I read. I like seeing what the author sees or makes a priority.
I notice the dogs I pass when I walk, and stop to pet a few of them when I'm walking in my gated community.
Wise words about perspectives and what people notice, Jim. I tend to also look at flying things when out for a walk. Also, I like to stop and literally smell the roses.
I like the idea that we can be in the same environment, yet notice different things because of what we focus on in our daily lives. I live in a college town and it always makes me sad to see so many students walking around campus with headphones on or texting on their phones while walking. I think of how much they're missing out on just by not looking up, listening, inhaling...
Kait -- that keying in on what is different may have been a terrific survival skill in our hunter/gatherer days.
Margaret -- Any idea of what those huge mushrooms are? I have a field guide you can borrow!
Molly -- kids are curiosity machines if we let them move at their pace.
EB -- good point about noticing what the author spends time describing. Some give away the bad guy because they give him/her too much attention early on!
Marilyn -- I'll bet the dogs are looking out for you, too so they can get their ears scratched.
Jennifer -- I'm like you and stop and smell flowers (and often discover little bugs when I get close).
Korina -- I might be one of the few people left who jog without something playing/talking in my ears. At first, I chalked it up to not wanting to be surprised by big things that could hurt if they hit me (cars, bicycles, moose), but after I tried some headphones that allowed environmental noises in, I discovered I still preferred to hear the call of birds, rustle of animals disturbed, wind riffling the leaves.
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