Observation is Important, M’kay?

There is perhaps no skill, trait, attribute, or ability of more value to survival than simple observation. If you are not aware, and you are not able to grasp the meaning of what you are aware of, you are crippled in a very real way.
Of late, a lot of my work and practice has been in areas that relied on observational skill and the habits associated with being observant, have been on my mind a lot. A major take-away has been how many people truly pay no attention at all, even when they are working in, or at least thinking in, high risk contexts.

Not to sound too stuck on myself (there is plenty I am bad at), I’ve known for a long time that many people were unaware of their surroundings, simply by contrasting them with myself. Growing up in the backcountry, on a working ranch, I came to have good observational skill at an early age. It was nothing specifically taught, but rather just part of the routine practices of living and working in the backcountry. You watch everything, as a matter of course. You watch the sky for signs of impending bad weather; You watch the ground for signs of your livestock and their movement patterns, as well as for dangers and predator sign; You even watch the grass grow, so you know the condition of the resources upon which your stock depend. These are the routine practices of the day, and the habits of everyone, as natural as breathing most times, and as forced as tying a shoe thats come unlaced at the rest.
Because of that environment, I have always been the guy among others who regularly saw things first in all manner of circumstances; The finder of arrowheads and lost keys, and the one who often took note of the little details no one else did. When I was younger, my first real clues that other people did not place as much importance on observing their environment, was that my mention of things like “smells like rain” or “I don’t think that real fresh looking bear shit was here when we walked up this way” were met with dismissal, arched eyebrows and “ohgod, there he goes again talking about more little random broken twigs and shit” attitudes. Folks from my part of the world, or who had lived and worked out a lot responded more positively, often being on the exact same page. After enough of this, plus experience teaching others observational skills for self protection, survival, and general better living through not getting eaten by that thing you otherwise wouldn’t have seen, I began to get the idea. Most folks don’t pay attention.
Sometimes though, even the most cynical among us can be surprised unpleasantly. A recent conversation with a neighbor, who we’ll call Jane, produced this. She had been talking to another neighbor (“neighbor” in this country being one of the five or six folk who live within ten or fifteen miles), who is a more recent resident out here, about the upgrades he was making on his property. He is a “prepper” type, is setting his property up as a survival retreat, and was talking about his solar and wind system and all his other neat tools and toys for surviving the apocalypse. Jane asked this fella’ about his plans to drill a well, and he told her wasn’t going to. Goggling at him she asked if he expected to be able to haul water the thirty-five miles of dirt road from town during the end of the world. Laughing, he said no, of course not, but he had other plans. He was going to collect dew, running off his roof.
Now, this may be a mighty fine idea in other places, I really can’t say. Here, however, it is not. This is a desert. A high desert, with plants and some water sources, and all of that, but a desert all the same. The amount of dew that runs off a roof in the average year is almost immeasurably small.
Here at the ranch, we trap all the water that runs off the roof. I have no honest idea about dew volume, but the amount we get from rain is not enough to sustain a family, much-less a family with crops, and animals (either pets or stock). This is dry country, with an overall dry climate. There are very few above ground water features, and the majority of those are seasonal arroyos and catchments pushed up by ranchers with bulldozers, which are typically dry. Annual precipitation for this area is nine (9) inches a year, and on top of that, we’re having a drought. None of this is exactly a big secret; The ground is dry, the grass is dead, and it never rains. Anyone with half a mind, and a pair of eyes, should be able to figure this out just by looking around, and if not that, by sitting in their kitchen in the early morning and listening to the sound of absolutely no dew running off the roof. In short, observing their environment. And yet, here was our “prepper” fellow, expecting to survive by collecting dew.

The Desert Has Many Riches, but Any Fool Can See, Water Ain’t One of ‘Em

This goes beyond backcountry, wilderness, or zombie apocalypse survival; From personal defense to your daily commute, if you aren’t observing your environment constantly, you’re going to miss something or wrongly assume that because something was so elsewhere it will be so here too. The further out on the edge you are, be it in a wilderness-, medical-, combative- or long term- survival situation, the more important that thing (or those things) you miss will be. Eventually that thing you miss will kill you. Maybe after its killed your children and your spouse.

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