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A Brush with Observation

Updated: Feb 7, 2020

How often have you spotted something that someone has dropped? Without realising it, you're practising the 'Awareness' element of Observation. You have got used to the environment around you and will probably have noticed it because it's an object that doesn't fit in that location. Whether it's a different colour from its surroundings, or a different shape or texture, it stands out because it's where it shouldn't be.

Our brains would suffer overload if they kept all the detail that we could see, all the time, so evolution has ensured that they look for differences instead. That could mean the absence of things we expect or the presence of something that shouldn't be there. The brain has a sort of base image to which it compares the current view. Realistically, it's more like a series of snapshots, rapidly compared (i.e. to ignore or act on depending on the circumstances) rather than the long-running video clip we fondly imagine. Only when the two don't appear to match does our brain suggest we should pay closer attention. This system was honed at a time when the absence or presence of something could mean very real danger for the individual. Nowadays we notice it more when we've driven home our regular route and realise that we haven't remembered all (any!) of the individual elements of the drive unless there is something different about them from usual. That doesn't mean to say that we can't fine-tune our observation skills so that we become better at noticing any differences.

To help reunite an object with its original owner, if they come looking for their lost property, I was always told to put the item somewhere more noticeable. That could mean placing it on a fence post or sign, or on top of a bush, preferably at eye height (although people's eye height will obviously vary, they are still more likely to spot something close to their head rather than something at their feet).

Photo of a small toy in a tree
Whenever I see this toy, I keep picturing the poor wee soul in his pram, who has lost a favourite toy

If you've ever noticed a lonely glove or toy that someone has picked up and placed on a wall or gate you'll appreciate that I'm not the only one that's been told that. It's a helpful thing to do. It would have been a real boon the time we were at Housesteads Roman Fort. We got back down to the car park (and I use the term 'down' advisedly) to discover that one of my young daughter's favourite welly boots had dropped off. Hubby volunteered to go back looking for it. Sadly, no one had helped by placing it helpfully within view, but by retracing our steps, as exactly as he could, he did actually find it. In the ancient latrine of all places!

sleeping child being carried, with a welly boot dangling
You can see how the welly might have fallen off quite easily...

Where am I going with this? Well, one day I found a brush on the woodland path during my usual morning constitutional. It looked like one I'd had for years, that was a very useful size, so I imagined that the owner would be sorry to lose it. I did wonder why someone would stop to brush their hair during a walk, but mine was not to reason why. I simply picked it up and placed it on a branch higher up, in the hope that it would catch the eye of the person who had lost it. Day after day, I passed and it was still there. After a week, it had dropped off the branch, so I duly picked it up again, settled it more securely and walked on. I walked past it for several weeks, almost getting to the stage of greeting it as I went by. "Good morning, Mrs Brush. How are you today?" I would wonder idly why it was still there. Perhaps the dog-walker hadn't noticed theirs was missing. Perhaps they had only gone that route that particular day and had taken different paths since. Who knows?

photo of a hairbrush in a tree
I'll pop it up here where the owner might see it

Then came the holidays, and I wasn't doing my usual walk. After one particularly windy visit to a beach in the Scottish Highlands, I went to get out the spare brush from my handbag to groom our Guinea Pig-In-Chief only to find that it was missing. Oops. That brush from the woods obviously didn't 'look like' my brush, it was my brush. I must have lost it when pulling out my phone from the outside pocket of my handbag to take a quick photo of something for one of these blogs (so I was right, the owner hadn't decided to brush their hair in the middle of a walk!).

Oh well, I'd just have to wait until doing that walk again and then I'd be reunited with it. Simples. Hmmm. Not quite. Once we got back home it was a good few days before I could get back into the routine of my daily walk. When I did, I got to the place I'd found the brush and put it up on the tree... only to find no brush in evidence. I used our Up and Down search pattern to make sure that I covered the area completely. No brush. Presumably someone had picked it up to take home and put in the rubbish bin rather than leave it littering the countryside.

diagrams of search patterns
Which search pattern would be most likely to help me find the missing brush?

The following day, taking the same route, I thought I'd have another look. I thought about what might have happened, and how that would affect where it might be found. If someone had bumped it, or kicked or thrown it away from the path rather than removing it, then it might be close by, but not in the area that I had searched so closely yesterday.

graphic representing the Anticipate Forget-Me-Not
The Anticipate Forget-Me-Not gets us to think about where we last saw something, where likely places to find it might be, who might have moved it (and why, in case that affects where they would have put it afterwards), and where they are likely to have moved it to, etc.

What I needed to do was look again, using a different search pattern. The best one for this particular situation would probably be Spiral Out. I started at the point I had last seen the brush and worked out in concentric circles until the whole of the area on both sides of the path had been checked. Just when I was on the point of giving up, I spotted the brush high on the bank on the opposite side of the path. Result.

It's a little bit grubby after its forced sojourn in the forest, but, after a bit of a wash, I'm sure my brush will continue to give many years of useful service. The little toy I mentioned earlier in this blog has disappeared, too, so I'm hoping the child has his/her toy back and is happy again.

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