One of this pledge season's offerings on PBS stations is a series on keeping your brain young and fit. I've watched it off and on while folding laundry and pretending to work on page proofs. In one segment, the host warns that you should not look down when you walk--that would be training your brain to accept tottering around staring at the ground as normal.
And my immediate thought was "That was written by someone who doesn't live in the land of rattlesnakes and cactus."
On city sidewalks, in airports and other rattlesnake-and-cactus-free zones, I have no problem balancing while not watching my feet. I don't watch my feet during fencing practice. I don't watch my feet in friends' houses (unless they have new puppies not completely housebroken.)
But outside, here in the Texas countryside? Where my feet share ground space with rattlesnakes (and sixteen other snake species on our place so far), cactus, cowflops, fox and coyote scat, and thorns the size of roofing nails? Yes, I watch where I step. If this reduces me to tottering senility, too bad.
Yesterday afternoon, for instance, on the closely mowed path leading across the near meadow to the ditch crossing and thence to the rain barn we named Fox Pavilion, I was practicing not watching my feet, just to see what would happen. Peripheral vision spotted a sinuous movement just in front of my left foot...a ring-necked snake. That ended the experiment, and as a result of looking down over the next hour, I spotted two different ground-hugging damselflies (one a lovely male Common Bluet), several small wasps, several beetles including one I've not seen before, some fox scat, a burrow with the tail end of a wasp in it and little grains of dirt coming out, another wasp with spider in tow, a moth I've not seen before, the track of a snake in dust...and so on.
Perhaps the brain training occurring as I notice what's on the ground and try to identify it and understand its place in the complex biogeochemical cycles that move matter and energy around the place will make up for the loss of brain power resulting from looking where I step.