By: Blonde Two
The lost sounds
The other day we Blondes were sent a present to try. Unusually it wasn’t something we could wear, cook with or sleep in. It was something we could listen to.
The Lost Sounds by Robert Macfarlane, Jackie Morris and Chris Watson is a beautiful collection of natural sounds, collected from all over the UK. As I type this I sit, part absorbed in the homely sound of waves lapping on a shore backed by the eery hooting and murmuring of waders I can’t identify (but really want to).
It’s a really unique way to experience the landscape. After all, when did any of us sit alone, eyes shut, with just the sounds of nature to entertain us? If you’re fed up with playlists, podcasts, and lyrics that earworm their way into your head, I suggest you give this one a go.
Using all our senses outside
Listening to The Lost Sounds however got me thinking about my own outdoor experiences. I know that I smell, taste, touch and hear nature outside, as well as see it but I’m not sure I really focus on those experiences. I’m moving through a landscape but am I missing it’s key attractions. The things that beat at its very heart?
I wasn’t sure. So I redirected my morning route through our local copse, slowed my pace, and focused on each of the five senses in turn. Here’s what I found myself taking in (deliberate choice of phrase there).
To my mind spring and autumn are the best months for outdoor hues but seeing isn’t just about colour. On this walk I tried to be curious as well about texture and shape. One particular tree caught my imagination. Wrapped all around in the writhing stems of ivy but still tall and strong-looking, it might have spoken to me about incarceration but instead it seemed to find support from the structure. I found support from the thought.
My favourite outdoor places all have their own distinct fragrance. I know I’ve been in an environment long enough when I can still smell it on my skin on my return home. Dartmoor’s peat, the pine hints of the Cairngorms, the salty tang of the Devon sea. They all move me. But what I don’t think I’ve properly observed before is the change of smell as I enter a new micro environment. Today the damp smell of earth at the entrance to the copse seemed to call me forward. As I entered I thought I’d imagined it. So I went back to the tarmac and tried again. Just magical.
For me, nature touching is usually about running my hands over plants as I walk. I stop in the summer because of nettles but there’s something about that gentle graze of leaves or grasses as I brush past. It’s harder to achieve this in the winter because plants are still low growing. In fact I found today that I didn’t really want to touch anything in the copse. It was only when I abandoned the trees to emerge at the top that I felt a touch move me. It was the touch of the wind, far more complicated than I had previously imagined. Here a gust, there a brush, next a whisper. Never quite the same strength. The perfect caress you might suggest.
As you know, I’m a keen forager. And yes, today I could have taken the easy route with taste, and plucked some three-cornered-leek to munch. A breath-polluting action if ever I knew one. I decided instead to see what happened when I just stopped and opened my mouth. To begin with it was tricky to separate out smell, touch and taste (the wind again) but with a bit of concentration, I’m sure I could taste the nearby sea.
This is somewhere that Chris Watson’s beautiful sound recordings in The Lost Sounds could be really helpful. Our copse is wonderful but it is an urban copse. There is traffic noise, and people chatter. But also bird song. I always notice the birds (sometimes even a woodpecker) but today I melted myself next to a tree to listen, as still as I could be, to a robin. There’s no telling whether or not my stillness influenced the tone and melody of his song. But I like to fancy it did something to adjust my understanding of it.
Take your senses for a walk
So there we have it. If you’re wondering where you would like your next walk to take you, perhaps you should change the question.
Perhaps you should ask instead, ‘Which sense would I like to explore today?’
I guarantee you’ll have a few surprises.