Take All Five Senses for a Walk
Hearing Birdsong is the classic outdoor nature sound. Listen to the birds, but there is so much more to hear than the birds. Listen to the wind in the trees. Listen to the wind in the tall grass. Listen and you'll hear the waterfall before you see it. One of my favorite sounds is the sound that little pebbles make when rolled by the surf. If you are in an urban area, you can still listen. You might learn to recognize a certain kind of vehicle by the sound of its engine. Doesn't the sound of the ice cream truck sound like summer?
Sometimes it's what you don't hear that is memorable. One time we were out walking and stopped for a spell. No one had anything to say so we said nothing. Pretty soon, my cousin noticed that there was no noise - no birds, no wind, no insects, no cars, no airplanes - nothing. Our ears strained so hard to hear something that they almost hurt. It was the strangest thing.
Smell By all means, stop and smell the roses. Also, stop and smell the Jeffrey pine bark. I think it smells like pineapple. Some say it is more like butterscotch or vanilla. There are many plants with fragrant flowers and foliage, some of it good and some of it just peculiar. Bodies of water may also have a fragrance. If you've been to the ocean, you know that smell. A waterfall might have a fresh smell to contrast with the smell of the muddy riverbank. There is the smell of rain in the air and rain on concrete. There are dry fall leaves and wet fall leaves. The list can go on and on, but when you're out, notice what you smell.
Taste I must have learned the value of a dollar very early in life, for when I first learned as a child that there were edible wild plants, I was fascinated. Here was food that you didn't have to pay for. Imagine that! It boggled my mind. I'm sure there were many more edible plants than I ever knew, but did you know that jewelweed seeds taste like walnuts? Out west here, I like yerba santa leaves, miners lettuce, and wild rose hips after they start to shrivel a little. Depending on where you go or the time of year, you might not find anything appropriate to eat. That is all right. You might need to get a little creative or even silly. Does the water in all of the drinking fountains of the park taste the same? Can you taste the smell in the air? Does your trail mix taste better on Oak Mountain or on Pine Mountain? That's not as goofy a concept as it might sound. Smell is closely tied to the sense of taste, and perhaps an oaky woods enhances your food better than a piney woods, or vice versa.
Here there needs to be a disclaimer. Before eating any plant matter, be absolutely sure of what it is. There are poisonous plants that look like edible plants. Be sure the plants have not been sprayed with herbicide or insecticide. That would include avoiding plants near farms, certain roadways, and railroad tracks. It is probably best to avoid eating wild plants while in the presence of children who are too young to understand the difference between edible and poisonous plants. You know to not pick things out of people's yards, and of course it is not good form to pick things in public gardens. Nature parks may prohibit picking anything. Know the rules. Remember your outdoor ethics. The idea is to sample a little bit, not to make a whole meal out of your foraging. If the quantity of edible matter is small, leave it for the wildlife. They probably need it more than you do.
Touch You aren't in an art gallery. Go ahead and touch. Touch the water and feel how cold it is. Chert pebbles are as smooth as wax. Young sycamore leaves are as soft as flannel. Sea anemones feel sticky. Spiky seed pods can be interesting. Feel the wind against you. Lean into it and it can seem like with just a little more effort, you could fly away. Touch can even be used in plant identification. Virtually all features of jeffrey pines and ponderosa pines look pretty much identical. Even their cones look basically identical. Pick them up, however. Ponderosa cones feel prickly and jeffrey cones do not. The mnemonic saying is "gentle jeffrey, prickly ponderosa".
Again, you might need to exercise some caution here. You don't want to touch poison ivy, poison oak, and most cacti. Don't reach where you can't see. There might be snakes, spiders or other biting creatures in there. Any wild mammal that would let you get close enough to touch it is probably sick. Leave it alone.
Sight Try looking at things in a different way. If you usually go around the park in a clockwise direction, the next time, go around counterclockwise. It will seem like a different place. If you usually go to a certain place at only a certain time of year, try going at a different time of year. If you always go in the morning, try going in the evening, or vice versa. Observe details and you might pick up on some trends. For example, you might see that certain landscaping plants were used primarily in neighborhoods built during a specific time period. Encourage those with you to point out interesting things that you might have missed.
Whenever you are out walking, hiking, exercising, working, or relaxing, try to get all of the senses involved. It will enrich your experience. It can be educational. Also, be sure to bring along some other "senses" - sense of wonder, common sense, and sense of humor.
Photos from top to bottom:
Paper nautilus, Santa Cruz Island, California;
Upper Falls, Yellowstone National Park;
Jeffrey Pine, Angeles National Forest;
California wild rose, Santa Monica Mountains;
Wild cucumber, Santa Monica Mountains; and
Scallop fossil, Santa Monica Mountains.
Photos property of the author.