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Awareness Prowess & A Single-Question Pop Quiz by Mark Hatmaker

We’re all high-speed, low-drag, “Keep your head on a swivel, eyes on everything” sorts, right? 

I’m assuming that because I am bombarded with a never-ending posting parade of “Awareness Musts!” “Situational Readiness Always!” “Eyes of Jack Reacher” or commentary on shared violence-porn, “This guy got popped because he wasn’t paying attention; what he shoulda done…what I woulda done” that sort of thing.

We’re all wide-wake great ones from what I read.

I’ll give you a super-easy quiz to test that assumption in a mo’ but first, a little tale of one who was always eyes-open even amongst other eyes that were also straining to be open and these allied eyes had use of new technology to assist “seeing.”

Captain H. E. Palmer, Eleventh Kansas Cavalry, Acting Asst. Adjt. Genl. to General P. E. Conner, gives this description of the Indian Camp on Tongue River, August 26, 1865. "Left Piney Fork at 6.45 a. m. Traveled north over a beautiful country until about 8 a.m., when our advance reached the top of the ridge dividing the waters of the Powder from that of the Tongue River. I was riding in the extreme advance in company with Major Bridger. We were 2,000 yards at least ahead of the General and his staff; our Pawnee scouts were on each flank and a little in advance; at that time there was no advance guard immediately in front. As the Major and myself reached the top of the hill we voluntarily halted our steeds. I raised my field glass to my eyes and took in the grandest view that I had ever seen. I could see the north end of the Big Horn range, and away beyond the faint outline of the mountains beyond the Yellowstone. Away to the northeast the Wolf Mountain range was distinctly visible. Immediately before us lay the valley of Peneau creek, now called Prairie Dog creek, and beyond the Little Goose, Big Goose and Tongue River valleys, and many other tributary streams. The morning was clear and bright, with not a breath of air stirring. The old Major, sitting upon his horse with his eyes shaded with his hands, had been telling me for an hour or more about his Indian life—his forty years experience on the plains, telling me how to trail Indians and distinguish the tracks of different tribes; how every spear of grass, every tree and shrub and stone was a compass to the experienced trapper and hunter—a subject that I had discussed with him nearly every day. During the winter of 1863 I had contributed to help Mrs. Bridger and the rest of the family, all of which fact's the Major had been acquainted with, which induced him to treat me as an old-time friend.

As I lowered my glass the Major said: 'Do you see those ere columns of smoke over yonder?' I replied: 'Where, Major?' to which he answered: 'Over there by that ere saddle,' meaning a depression in the hills not unlike the shape of a saddle, pointing at the same time to a point nearly fifty miles away. I again raised my glasses to my eyes and took a long, earnest look, and for the life of me could not see any column of smoke, even with a strong field glass. The Major was looking without any artificial help. The atmosphere seemed to be slightly hazy in the long distance like smoke, but there was no distinct columns of smoke in sight. As soon as the General and his staff arrived I called his attention to Major Bridger's discovery. The General raised his field glass and scanned the horizon closely. After a long look, he remarked that there were no columns of smoke to be seen. The Major quietly mounted his horse and rode on. I asked the General to look again as the Major was very confident that he could see columns of smoke, which of course indicated an Indian village. The General made another examination and again asserted that there was no column of smoke. However, to satisfy curiosity and to give our guides no chance to claim that they had shown us an Indian village and we would not attack it, he suggested to Captain Frank North, who was riding with his staff, that he go with seven of his Indians in the direction indicated to reconnoitre and report to us at Peneau Creek or Tongue River, down which we were to march. I galloped on and overtook the Major, and as I came up to him overheard him remark about 'these damn paper collar soldiers telling him there was no columns of smoke. The old man was very indignant at our doubting his ability to outsee us, with the aid of field glasses even. Just after sunset on August 27 two of the Pawnees who went out with Captain North towards Bridger's column of smoke two days previous came into camp with the information that Captain had been correct.”

We may allow the use of the binoculars to stand in for today’s use of phones, GPS tech etc.

Lest one take this as a story of mere genetic quirk of keen eyesight, let’s add to the observational side of the argument from the same account.

While engaged in this thorough system of trapping, no object of interest escaped his scrutiny, and when once known it was ever after remembered. He could describe with the minutest accuracy places that perhaps he had visited but once, and that many years before, and he could travel in almost a direct line from one point to another in the greatest distances, with certainty of always making his goal. He pursued his trapping expeditions north to the British possessions, south far into New Mexico and west to the Pacific Ocean, and in this way became acquainted with all the Indian tribes in the country, and by long intercourse with them learned their languages, and became familiar with all their signs. He adopted their habits, conformed to their customs, became imbued with all their superstitions, and at length excelled them in strategy.

“Bridger was also a great Indian fighter, and I have heard two things said of him by the best plainsmen of this time; that he did not know what fear was, and that he never once lost his bearings, either on the plains or in the mountains.”

That’s quite a feat of Sherlockian observation, all the more impressive being that we are discussing a non-fictional character.

Some postulate that is our speed of moving through environments now, cars over horses etc., that accounts for much of our situational blindness; the argument is that we simply move too fast to take it all in. 

Although if speed is relative for all, this did not seem to help the fellow horsemen, all military men, all primed to watch for danger that accompanied Mr. Bridger.

Still many tout the “speed” theory. John MacDonald author of The Arctic Sky, “The faster you traverse the land, the less observant of it you become.” Snowmobiles create an experience of always driving into the wind, whereas hunters on dog teams travel slowly enough that they can use wind direction as an orientation tool to keep a bearing.

Speed may be a part of the situational blindness but those who live on or off the land, say it may be something a bit deeper. A very lack of relationship to what surrounds.

Aangaittuq, is an Inuit word that can be translated to “ultra-observant.” It is applied to dogs and hunters/warriors who always seem to know where they are even in seemingly trackless arctic landscape.

There is an opposite to this word, it is aangajuq. It does not merely mean non-observant, its meaning is a bit more complex. Loosely and broadly it translates to “one who moves away from the community and immediately loses where his destination is at, so as a result will travel blindly.”

“Community” here is community with your surroundings, no matter what they be.

Often when I discuss the observational prowess of these scouts, trackers, woods-runners, and other such ever-present ever-ready types I am told, “Well, Mark, if I lived in the woods or arctic or prairie all the time I too would know what they know, but in my own world I am eyes open and pretty damn sharp at what surrounds me.”

And here’s to that being true.

The Single-Question Pop Quiz

Let’s make it easy. We will minus out speed being a blinding factor.

We will not go with unfamiliar or seldom travelled environments.

Let’s go with something you see day-in day-out----your own front yard.

The Question

What are the predominant plants that comprise your front lawn? Merely saying “grass” ain’t gonna cut it here. 

My Answer: In one square yard of lawn I have Kentucky Bluegrass, white-clover, dandelion, three common plantain, some straggling ground ivy, a bit of stickwilly and a smattering of sweet violet and a sprout of mock or Indian strawberry.

How’d you do?

Would you call yourself Aangaittuq, or aangajuq.

Would Jim Bridger say “You’ll do to ride the trail with”? 

If so, that is high praise.

If you came out on the aangajuq side of things and eyes-open, environmental submersion matters to you more than lip-service ego-props. Well, it can start right on the very ground you stand upon.

That’s how Bridger did it, and all the hunters, scouts and warriors like him.

Eyes wide open, senses always humming.

Hell, you can do it even at speed. How? Kill distractions.

Let’s allow a different sort of teacher to have a say in this lesson. I turn the stage over to Sonny Barger, legend of The Hells Angels.

As long as I’ve had AM/FM radio-equipped Harleys, I can’t remember turning one on. I prefer to listen to the sound of my own engines.”

Apparently bad-asses of yore and today, [the true bad-asses and not the poseurs] prefer their own engines, their own observations with no canned technological distractions to take them out of where they are right now. Be it speeding down the highway or standing stock-still in your own yard. 

Warriors are awake.

Are you?

[For techniques, tactics, and strategies of Rough and Tumble Combat, Old-School Boxing, Mean-Ass Wrestling, Street-Ready Frontier Scrapping & Indigenous Ability culled from the historical record see the RAW Subscription Service, or stay on the corral fence with the other dandified dudes and city-slickers.


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