The Art of Not Noticing Anything

For whatever reason, we designated Christmas week as Bigfoot week. This mostly entailed watching survival expert Les Stroud (Survivorman) walk through the outback looking for Bigfoot. Spoiler alert: he did not find him.

But here are some things I learned. Bigfoot encounters are almost always coincidental. Those who have seen one in person have almost always stumbled upon a Bigfoot while engaged in a normal, everyday activity. People have come across (or have been come across) while changing tires, hiking, swimming in a river, cleaning fish, or driving through the countryside. The only thing they had in common is that they had no intention of seeing Bigfoot.

Conversely, it was mentioned by several of the Bigfoot hunters interviewed that almost nobody who looks for one seems to find a Bigfoot. And indeed it does seem rare that even the most devoted Bigfoot hunters capture one on film, pictures, or have a sighting. The entire Bigfoot community sort of narrows their eyes and makes a Marge Simpson growl when someone whose entire goal is to find Bigfoot actually finds one.

Not only is this a huge Catch-22 (Go look for Bigfoot, but if you actually find him, you’re lying), but it is totally incongruous to the amount of effort people put into engaging with one. Les spent several days and nights in the deep back country, which is dangerous for so many other reasons aside from the fact that he was trying to come into contact with a mysterious monster whose name suggests enormity and who could pull off Les’s limbs like flower petals. He also tried attracting these creatures with apples, pheromones, wood knocks, and Bigfoot calls. He equipped himself with infrared and motion detecting cameras. And still nothing.

Watching a show about Bigfoot means finding interest in subsidiary information. If one is only watching to catch sight of a Bigfoot, they will be disappointed 99.99% of the time, and even if that other .001% comes through, they will often shout hoax. I made my peace with not seeing a Bigfoot and instead paid attention to the little lessons.

Les is a survival expert (hence the name Survivorman, which sounds rather like a bad reality game show or a post apocalyptic superhero). He knew an enormous amount about the terrain, and its flora and fauna. For example, he knew how long a tree had been down based on the condition of the trunk and what the weather would be based on a tree’s leaves. He spoke with confidence about the habits and tendencies of not only animals but humans too, such as our propensity for creating shelters in the general form of a home, with squared borders and walls. I found this fascinating.

But as a city rat, what I really found fascinating was his eagle eye in nature. A number of times he was able to pick out a footprint while walking along an overgrown trail. He saw several broken trees deep in the woods and spent an hour over a downed tree contemplating the scenario under which it had been knocked down.

More than his knowledge of nature, I was mind boggled by this level of awareness of surroundings. How a person can pick out the most minute details and piece together the much bigger picture was astounding. This is probably because I possess the ability to not notice anything.

As I sit here writing, I am not 100% sure of what posters and pictures are on the walls of my bedroom, a room I have slept in about 4,500 times. The other day while walking down my hill, I pointed out a sleek new garage at my neighbors, only to be informed that it had been there for a decade.

Do I have city slicker disease? Unlike someone surviving in the wild, my life doesn’t (really) depend on noticing tiny details around me, so have I forgotten how to do so? Have I fallen into a robotic routine comprised of keeping my head down, earphones, podcasts, and a beaten track? Do I ignore all things off that track?

There are areas in which I am more attuned, for example language. I do notice the tiny details and seemingly irrelevant nuances in spoken or written language. A broad example of this might be noticing whether a speaker uses the passive vs. active (e.g. I was failed in the class vs. I failed the class). The first could suggest that the speaker is not blaming himself for the failure, but perhaps his teacher instead. People tip off their listeners with these little clues all the time in an unconscious way.

No doubt I notice these linguistic bits for the same reason Les Stroud notices the things he does – because they are part of our jobs. Still, it would be nice to be more aware of the things around me, whether on the street or in a park. With hopes of doing this I have dug up a book I got years ago called The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs. As far as noticing my city surroundings a little more, maybe I’ll just keep my eyes open and my head up, leave the earphones at home, and save the podcasts for the evening. Maybe it’ll help a bit. Shit, maybe I’ll find Bigfoot. Accidentally, of course.

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