A Tale of Two Tree Stumps

I ran a small private course yesterday and enjoyed a wonderfully ironic moment. It was almost embarrassing.

The first half of the day was spent indoors studying the theory, looking at photographs and playing with celestial models. One of the points I am always keen to make is about the relationship between the uses of our senses and wayfinding. Sight is so often under-rated because its use is so immediately obvious, but we rarely acknowledge how much detail is allowed to escape. For example, we have evolved to identify things by shape much more readily than by colour or shade. Our brains tend to identify an object as a tree, ie. not a threat, and then move on to processing other information without noticing the subtle differences in shades of the leaves at all. Sometimes it pays to rein it in, to force it to focus and to analyse some of the other detail that is coming in through our eyes. It is only by slowing our thoughts that our brains can actually start to see some of the things that our eyes see.

However aware we become of this, some details will always escape our eyes and mind. That is why walking in a group can be so rewarding.

After lunch we set out into the South Downs. A couple of hours into the walk my eyes were drawn to a stout beech stump, its sawn trunk covered in a thick moss felt. Using my fingers and then a stick, I began peeling away the moss. I wanted to reveal the rings of the dead tree and use the position of its heart to indicate direction. Stephen, who was standing a few feet away, politely pointed out that there was a near identical tree stump less than twenty feet away with no moss covering its rings. I had let myself become so drawn into one object that I had lost the wider picture. I walked over to the stump and had a bit of a laugh at myself. I had managed to blind myself to the bigger picture by studying the finer detail. Nature was once again gently mocking and reminding of the need for balance in everything.

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