Nature Connection #16 – Sensory Hike

Today’s Nature Connection is an activity from my workbook, Regaining Sense of Place, 2000.

“Freed from the pressure of haste. . . I found myself looking more closely at what went on around me.” – Colin Fletcher, The Man Who Walked Through Time

Have you ever been away from your dwelling place for a few days and returned to be greeted by the familiar smell of home? Maybe it’s the carpet cleaner that you use, or the air fresheners, but somehow it just smells like home.

We tend to rely heavily upon our sense of sight for identification, often ignoring our other senses of hearing, smell, taste and touch. Sometimes there’s that ‘sixth’ sense about a place – an intuitive sense that makes us feel comfortable or nervous or at home.

In this activity, you will take a sensory hike around the yard or the grounds of your house, duplex, or apartment building. Please keep your personal safety in mind at all times. You might want to ask a friend to go with you if you would be more at ease. The questions below will help put you in touch with your senses, and help you discover new ways of thinking about the place where you live.

Step 1: Plan your hike. Are there shady areas and full sun areas you might investigate? Are there plantings, landscaped areas? Are there water features? Select four to six areas that you want to visit on your hike. Plan to visit places where you can face all four directions (north, south, east and west) as well as areas that are shaded and in full sun.

Step 2: Gather up your supplies. (A notebook, a pen or pencil, a bottle of water, a hat)

Step 3: Find a window of time where you can spend 20-45 undisturbed minutes. Leave your cell phone inside. Your hike will be affected by the time of day. In order to completely experience this sensory exercise you might want to repeat the exercise several times, experiencing this hike in the morning, at noon, in the evening and even after dark.

Step 4: At each stop that you have selected, answer the following questions.
(a) What does it smell like here. Turn slowly in a circle, stopping occassionally. Your sense of smell may be assisted by licking your upper lip. Try smelling at different heights, as if you were a rabbit (four inches), a coyote (twelve inches), or a deer (two feet). Make a list of what you smell.

(b) What does it sound like here? Turn slowly in a circle, stopping occasionally. Your sense of sound may become more acute if you keep your eyes closed for a few minutes. Try listening at different heights, as in (a). Make a list of what you hear.

(c) What does it feel like here? Stand still and notice how your skin feels. Is it hot from the sun, cooled by a breeze, wet from a light rain or fountain spray? Is it clammy with humidity, or dry? Make a note about how your skin feels.

(d) What do you see from here? Notice the natural (not manmade) things that exist around your dwelling place. Turn slowly in a circle, looking at plants, trees, animals, ground and sky. Make a list of what you see.

Repeat for each stop on your hike. Then find a place to sit to complete the final two sections of this activity.

Step 5: Write a paragraph or make a sketch to illustrate what you learned about your immediate home on your sensory hike.

Step 6. What about your sixth sense? How does your immediate home/yard make you feel emotionally? Are you comfortable, or uneasy outside? If you are uneasy, are there things you could do or learn about that would make you feel more relaxed? What threatens your security? Is it the wildlife, the unknown, or possible “people” danger that keeps you from feeling entirely comfortable when you are outside? Make a list. Now, consider what you could personally do to relieve your uneasiness when you are outside.

This activity can be repeated at different places and in different seasons as you become more comfortable in the natural world. You might want to read some nature writers who have picked up a pen and written about the places they love. Examples include:
Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire.
Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac.
Thoreau, Henry David. At Walden Pond.
Williams, Terry Tempest. Coyote’s Canyon.

After you have spent some time reading someone else’s nature writing, try your own hand at writing observations about your place.

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