Along the Path:  A Young Person’s Guide to Exploring Nature

A New Way of “Seeing”

By Susan Rothrock Deo

We depend on our senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch—to help us understand the natural world. We use our eyes most, but some animals learn about their world more from their other senses. Dogs, for example, have an area of their brain devoted to analyzing  smells

that is forty times the size of the one in our brains. The elephant has an even bigger olfactory (smell) center. Dogs and elephants also have a keen sense of hearing. So do moths. Bats and dolphins use a special kind of hearing called echolocation. They make a sound and listen to the echo that bounces back to observe the animals and objects around them.

Let’s challenge ourselves to use all our senses, not just our eyes. Here are some ideas.

Hearing: The next time you are in your backyard, at the beach, or on a hike, stop for a minute. Take a seat on the ground or a bench and close your eyes. What do you hear? Are the ocean waves the same at the beach, on top of the cliff, or among the tide pool cobblestones? Do you hear the wind rustling through the palm trees or whistling through the pines? Can you recognize the birds in your neighborhood by their calls: peafowl, mockingbird, great horned owl? Or distinguish different calls of one kind of bird, like the song of a hummingbird compared with his “stay away from my territory” scolding? Or the buzz of his wings as he hovers over a flower?

Smell: Can you smell the dampness in the air after a rain, or the fishy ocean air when the breeze is just right? We love smelling flowers, but did you ever try smelling leaves? Southern California has many native plants that are aromatic. If you hike with an adult who knows plants, they can treat you to amazing smells like sage or sagebrush.

Touch: The textures of leaves, the trunks of trees offer many surprises: some are smooth and satiny while others are fuzzy or feathery, rubbery, bumpy or sharp. (Again, be sure what you are touching is safe. You want to avoid the sting of nettles or the itch of poison oak.) You can feel with more than your fingers too: the sun’s heat on your back, the tease of the breeze about your face, the soggy sand squishing through your toes, the moist, coolness of the air beneath the trees.

So, next time you are outside, take a moment to “see” the world with more than your eyes. You’ll “look” at the world in a whole new way!

Susan Deo is a Sierra Club member with a master’s degree in environmental education. She has taught life science, marine biology, and environmental education from pre-school through the college level. A longtime docent with Los Serenos de Point Vicente, Susan has published short stories and essays and is working on several picture books and middle grade novels.  

“Along the Path: A Young Person’s Guide to Exploring Nature” is a recurring column, by various authors, for the eternally curious.

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