Stop, Look, and Listen – Nature is All Around You!

catching a turtle

Do you have ten minutes a day to just sit, look, and listen – to nature all around you? Hard to do right? Our lives become overwhelmed by schedules and endless lists of things to do such that we often just run out of time, or do not take the time. And when we do, we may not use all of our senses to really enjoy the nature that is all around us.

So, here is an exercise that you can do in as little as 10 minutes that uses all five of your senses to see, hear, smell, touch, and on occasion for the brave among you, taste. It starts with the one sense that dominates our world – sight. How many times did your mother ask you about not “hearing” her because you were so focused on “seeing” what was in front of you? For humans it is the dominate sense followed, in relative order of importance, by hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting.

Here goes. Find a nice comfortable spot to sit. Start out by spending a minute or two looking at the nature down around your feet. Shift to looking out at eye level, then up into the sky. Scale is important and if you were only looking on the ground, you would miss the trees in front of you and the clouds and creatures across the sky.

Now for the fun part, shut your eyes and listen. This is the one sense that we can take better advantage of when discovering nature. Many birders are adept at identifying birds by sound well before or instead of seeing them. Think owls, that are more often heard then seen, but this applies to all species of birds and many other critters out there. For your homework, look up how to distinguish the calls of a Northern Mockingbird from its close relative the Brown Thrasher. In the spring and summer you will be able to tell the difference without seeing them.

Your sense of smell is your third tool and shouldn’t be overlooked. Flowers certainly top the list of things in nature that we smell, but many plants and creatures also have an odor that can be used to verify or identify species. Think bay leaves. Our native Bay Tree is abundant locally and yes, the leaves smells and taste just like the “store-bought” version.

Last of the five senses are touch and taste. Texture is often used as a characteristic of plant leaves and bark, and you don’t necessarily have to touch a tree to see its “texture”. Red oaks have “tight” bark as opposed to the looser nature of bark on white oaks. As for tasting, be sure that you know what you are putting in your mouth before you do it and enjoy the many “tasty” morsels out in nature. Blueberries, blackberries, and mulberries are fantastic off the bush. Elderberry and Beauty Berry not so much raw, but very tasty after cooked a bit, both making fine jelly!

 

So, there you have it. Using all five of your senses to discover nature can add quite a bit to your experiences – during any time of the year. Oh, and invite a child to join you to show them how it is done.

 

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!!!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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