The title of the book is On looking: eleven walks with expert eyes. Think about the places you walk through regularly. How much do you really see and remember, after your walk?
Cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz thought she was paying attention on her walks, until she began taking the walk with different people. They all see different things, during the same walk around the block, because they are all different people. The artist sees things differently than the urban sociologist, the physician, geologist or the naturalist (he was interested in all of the bugs!)
On Looking inspired me to look more carefully at my own neighborhood, when I walk my dog. My little pug certainly notices our neighborhood very differently. She focuses especially on the smells, particularly on things I wouldn't care to sniff. I tend to notice the changes in gardens, or the birds.
Thinking of walking reminds me of the mornings when I was in high school in New Orleans. Our school had an open campus--students could leave the premises. My best friend, Roberta, and I rode the bus over the Mississippi River every morning at a ridiculously early hour for teenagers to be awake. As soon as we got to school, we stuffed our belongings into our lockers, and went "mumbling."
Mumbling was a term we borrowed from Roberta's father. It meant to wander aimlessly. We walked really fast on the sidewalks of the neighboring streets, talking about whatever was on our minds and laughing. The neighborhood had different architecture than the suburbs we inhabited, so I remember noticing the houses the most. Many of the houses had crawl spaces underneath them.
One morning, we slowed down and stopped in surprise. A big dog emerged from a hole in the crawl space under a large house. Then a smaller dog, and another, and so on, until Roberta and I turned to each other, and said simultaneously,"Five dogs!" That gave us a big laugh, and we continued our mumbling way back to school.
I don't know what we would have thought about Horowitz's book, if it had been available to our fifteen year old selves. But it's interesting to realize that we both noticed the same thing at the same time, and stopped to observe, instead of mumble, that morning.