Last month, we discussed “The Lost Art of Urban Tracking,” an excerpt from The Urban Bestiary by nature writer Lyanda Lynn Haupt. In this chapter, Haupt describes observation as a practice which “requires in equal measure contemplation, curiosity, art, wonder, poetry, play, and love.” Looking at the word’s Latin roots, ob- and servare, Haupt suggests “observation can be more than watching,” as servare means “to attend,” which “implies…a graced allowing, a room for the movement of the observed in its own sphere – a sphere that, as attendants, we are invited to enter.” Haupt also thinks observers must recognize a certain amount of responsibility in allowing the observed “to have a presence, to speak for itself.”
I first read The Urban Bestiary while traveling to conduct my second of three observations of the Social Stories Spectrum Project at theNAT in San Diego. As an avid birdwatcher, I’d packed my binoculars and birding guide to occupy my downtime. Birding put me in just the right mindset to observe a 4-hour museum program. Integrating observation into daily practice is useful for developing a skill set that I can flex when it matters most – kind of like practicing a sport or an instrument. As Haupt writes, “with practice, our attendance deepens, becomes more astute, and also easier, more natural, part of our lives, our days, our intellects, our bodies.” Observing the world, and especially its animal life, is a hobby, survival skill, and a means of tuning in—to the life around us. With practice, observation prepares our minds to evaluate museum programs with natural attention.