Paying attention to your surroundings on the road

Kath Heiman — 4 October 2016

When I was a kid touring with my family, I remember how my view of the world could sometimes differ from my parents.

When we’d travel through high-rainfall forests, my eye would generally be drawn to the damp undergrowth as I wondered how many thousands of blood-sucking leeches skulked there (I’ve always hated leeches above all other creepy-crawlies). Meanwhile, it wasn’t unusual for Dad to bring the vehicle to an unexpected halt where he saw trees that appeared to be under stress. As a plant-disease expert, his eyes were always drawn to the possible presence of previously undetected plant pathogens within the vegetation.

A similar thing would happen on outback trips. I come from an area of the country that’s fairly green and undulating. So, when faced with remote inland scenery, it would usually take me several days on the road to actually see the subtle variations in topography and landscape. Until then, I’d be left wondering what Dad was actually pointing towards when he’d indicate changes in colour and plant life that marked alterations in geography and rainfall.

In recent years, I’ve not had much reason to reflect again on how individual context influences how we see our surroundings – although I know it must happen all the time in different spheres of life (consider, for example, how a Rural Fire Service volunteer probably views a tinder-dry roadside easement). But my attention was refocussed on the issue a couple of weeks back when my husband downloaded the 586 images our five-year-old daughter has captured on the kids’ camera we bought for her birthday.

Now, I’m not going to tell you that the photos are genius. I’ve always been sceptical of parents who over-state the artistic creations of their youngsters. But I’m pretty sure there’s something worth considering in the subjects she’s latched onto.

Let me explain.

When I review the photos, I’m looking at objects like ants, the rim of a vintage tractor wheel, and up-close images of her favourite toy. And if it’s not these types of details, her photos capture images of things such as road signs, smoke from a controlled burn, or an airplane’s contrail: in other words, the stuff that’s flown past her back-seat window as we’ve steamed along the highways and byways.

What’s compelling about these photos is they remind me that, in the eyes of a five-year-old, nothing is mundane. Unaffected by society’s (media influenced) view about what’s supposed to be photogenic, there’s obviously a whole bunch of things out there in the world that I’d forgotten were interesting. To her, everything has possibilities.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my daughter and I saw our travels from different perspectives. It’s a well-known fact that, as we grow into adulthood, our perception of the world gradually changes – due to our experiences, our acquired bias, and for a myriad of other reasons. And the results are not always positive. My daughter’s photos make we wonder whether, if more of us adults could continue to see wonder in the ‘little things’, we’d have a richer life experience. Perhaps lots of things that we’ve forgotten to notice as adults are still be as meaningful as they ever were.

I don’t know for sure. I’m no psychologist. But I’m pretty sure that the next time we hit the road in the rig I’ll be making a more deliberate effort to be curious and attentive to my surroundings. And I’ll pay more attention when my daughter gets ‘snap-happy’ with her camera or squeals with excitement about something I hadn’t even noticed.

At the very least, I’ll enjoy being reminded once in a while that there’s more to the world than meets the eye.


travel Safety Driving 4WD Camper Trailer 2016