Alexandra Horowitz, the author of “On Looking: A Walker's Guide to the Art of Observation,” reminds us in her book that we are missing out on most of the things taking place around us, including what occurs in our body and occurrences happening from afar and under our nose. She argues that we see things but cannot see them through.
Horowitz, also the author of “Inside of a Dog,” a New York Times bestseller, shares anecdotes that she has had about taking a stroll and talking to various people in her neighborhood in New York City. A varied group of walkers that she has met, including a geologist, a typographer, an illustrator, an entomologist, a wild animal researcher, an urban sociologist, a doctor, and a blind man, tell us how to look at the world and walk the normally dull street from a different viewpoint.
Geologists are reminded of how the Earth was formed, finding Paleozoic rock as finishing materials for the city’s buildings and street pavements. Compared to typographers intrigued by typefaces and design elements decorating signboards, entomologists find it interesting to grasp environmental pollution and weather conditions based on some creatures they encounter on the lawn next to the pedestrian path. Wild animal researchers talk about the ecosystem of Central Park, while doctors bring up public hygiene issues.
Their different viewpoints have enriched my strolls around the Seochon area next to Gyeongbokgung Palace. I can now know how to find and observe how salamanders, crawfish, and cicadas do in time for their active season; and draw a map of architectural museums in my version, distinguishing the level of skills and figuring out how architectural materials have changed over time since the 1950s up until the present. The path I have walked for more than 10 years has turned into a treasure house that gives diversity and joy to my daily life.
You may find walking the same path to work and home every day dull. Then, why don’t you put your earphones and mobile back in your bag and instead use your senses and stroll? Look around at all the familiar things and the way home may come across as completely new. Open your ears to your loved family’s voice and observe every single subtle look on their face. The most precious treasure of your life is just in front of you.