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Look Where I'm Looking

by Robin Tuck
August 1997

Here we are, on a field trip. We stop at a clump of trees and pile out of the car. In the top of one of the trees, one of the birders suddenly sees a bird and calls out the species, one we have all come to find. When we ask where it is, she says "Look where I’m looking." We all turn to her and try to figure out where she is looking; she then says, "Oh, there it goes," as we see a flutter of wings, and the bird disappear out of sight.

"Look where I’m looking." There has to be a better way to help people look where we are looking and see what we are seeing, and there is. Here are some hints on how to tell someone else where you are looking.

The first problem is to get people to look in the right direction. We can do this by identifying prominent features close by, such as "See the tallest tree," or "that bush with the big dead branch on its left." If the listener cannot find the feature mentioned, look for a more prominent one until he has identified it. Avoid using words the listener may not understand, such as, "See the Maple tree over there," especially if it is surrounded by Maple look-a-likes.

Another way to get people looking in the right direction is to use "clock" directions, that is, "look at 2 o’clock." Still, this kind of terminology requires that the speaker and listener both have the same point of reference, i.e., we have to know where "twelve o’clock" is. In a vehicle, "twelve o’clock" is straight out the front of the vehicle, but when we are standing in a group "twelve o’clock" is generally directly toward a specified major feature everyone can identify. When we use the clock terminology, it is as if we were standing at the pivot point of the hands looking towards the 12. "Nine o’clock" means to our direct left, "three o’clock" is to our direct right, and "six o’clock" is behind us.

Clumps of trees or fields of brush make it difficult to specify the exact object wanted. In this case, use the closest, the one furthest right or left, or one with a highly visible prominent feature. If the listener cannot find the particular tree or bush being described, start from one he can identify and move forward, back, left or right until the desired one is identified. Often, a count of trees is necessary, such as "fourth tree to the left."

Often we will want to use distances, such as 100 feet. It seems few people know just how far 100 feet is. This is a case where practice can help. For example, many of the house lots in Provo/Orem are about 100 feet wide. We can stand at one edge of our house lot and see where 100 feet is, then looking down the street, see where 200 feet, 300 feet and 400 feet are. Dividing our house lot in half, then in quarter will give us 50 feet and 25 feet.

Once the general object has been identified, we need to use more specific directions. Again, these need a common point of reference. This reference can be provided by a unique feature of the object, such as a dead branch, a patch, a different color, or an open spot. Other reference points can be established by using "top," "bottom" or "middle," or by estimating small distances, such as "4 feet from the top."

Becoming more descriptive and exact in our directions won’t keep the bird from fluttering away just as we raise our binoculars, but it will help us help our friends have a less frustrating birding experience.