31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 15 ~ Sensing Place

A sense of place(2)Welcome to Day 15 of 31 Days of A Sense of Place.


In a course I’m taking — not coincidentally on “a sense of place” — we spent most of the last class on a trail in the woods, exploring what’s there with our senses.

First, we looked for a few minutes along a 15-foot (or so) strip to try to see objects that the instructor had hidden there, in plain site but a bit obscured by branches, leaves, tree trunks: a pair of scissors, a shiny green soda bottle, a straw, a pencil, a plastic googly eye, a plastic cube, etc.

Next, we each took a loop of string that encompassed about 2 feet and dropped it on the ground, then within that circumference examined what was living in the leaves, bark, debris. I found a living (scurrying) beetle, a living slug and slug eggs (which look like golden caviar, by the way), fungi, a large acorn, a tiny pine cone, and some fungal-looking things I couldn’t identify.


Then we wandered closer to the river (which is more like a creek or marsh here), and using a piece of paper on a clipboard and a pencil, we sketched out or labelled the directionality of all the sounds we heard in the course of 5 or 6 minutes. I heard a number of birds from multiple directions, squirrels and chipmunks, road noise in one direction, the noise of my classmates moving and sneezing around me. Our instructor mentioned that she took us to the water because there was more chance there for us to hear and process sounds than we might in the nearby meadow, where the quiet din of gnawing and chomping insects would likely be undetected by us.


In my garden, after a rainfall, you can faintly, yes, hear the breaking of new blooms. –Truman Capote


Finally, we were taken to a flat-terrained maple grove, where we chose partners and took turns being blindfolded and led to one of the trees, whose bark, roots, leaves (if any at our level) we touched and smelled. We were then led back to where we started, unblindfolded, and asked to find our tree from among the eight or nine in the stand. Mine was easy, a quite distinctive tree, but my partner’s was more difficult; still, she found it without hesitation, because of the moss at the base of its trunk and the branch near its base.  (And also probably because I didn’t spin her around and try to confuse her, mainly because I didn’t think of it.)

my tree - unusual to the touch!
my tree – unusual to the touch!
my tree - I noticed the leaf on the bark when touching it
my tree – I noticed the leaf on the bark when touching it
partner's tree
partner’s tree
partner's tree - moss and branch near trunk
partner’s tree – moss and branch near trunk
another cool thing I saw
another cool thing I saw


The idea, of course, is that we know a place by means of our immediate and always-new experience of that place sensually, as well as through information, names and labels, history, maps, signs on a kiosk. Most of us tend to rely on sight rather than on sound, scent, touch, or taste when exploring a place, and yet sound and scent can be very instructive outdoors, and opening all of our senses gives us a deeper, perhaps more complex awareness, of what’s going on around us (not to mention inside us).


I spoke in this post last November about how “attending” — really paying attention — tends to lead to appreciation. I’m thinking about this again in terms of place. Part of having a sense of place is having a felt experience of the place, a familiarity with it that comes through repeated interaction with it, interaction that has emotional meaning.


I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer — and what trees and seasons smelled like — how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.” ― John Steinbeck, East of Eden


I’m a compulsive toucher and smeller of things, outside or inside, and yet I know that I give more weight to what I see. Whether I pay more attention to what I see because I take photographs every day, or whether I take photographs every day because I pay more attention to what I see is an open question. If there were a way to record and preserve touched, smelled, tasted, and heard events like there is a way to record those seen, maybe I’d rely on those senses more. (I know one can record what’s heard, but it’s harder to record and share and takes a lot more bandwidth, in my experience, with my equipment.) No matter, I like to strengthen my other sensory muscles, even as I depend on sight. Sometimes it feels like learning another language.


Here I have taken some photos in the garden today, moving closer and closer into the center of the focus as a way to see more than might appear at first glance. I invite you to do the same in your outside place, not necessarily in photos but in person, getting closer and closer to the small world within, the one that can’t be seen from 20 feet away, or even 5, but must be seen (or smelled, or touched, or listened to) close-up.


Set A: Asclepias incarnata seed pods

asclepiasseedpodsA14Oct2015 asclepiasseedpodsB14Oct2015 asclepiasseedpodsC14Oct2015 asclepiasseedpodsD14Oct2015 asclepiasseedpodsE14Oct2015


Set B: Brussels sprouts plant with surprise:

brusselssproutsplantA14Oct2015 brusselssproutsplantB14Oct2015 brusselssproutsplantC14Oct2015 brusselssproutsplantCwithcaterpillars14Oct2015 brusselssproutsplantDcaterpillarclose14Oct2015


Set C: Cosmos with Scarlet Runner BeanscosmosscarletrunnerbeansA14Oct2015 cosmosscarletrunnerbeansB14Oct2015 cosmosscarletrunnerbeansCcosmosclose14Oct2015 cosmosscarletrunnerbeansE14Oct2015 cosmosscarletrunnerbeansF14Oct2015


Set D: Cleome with surprise

cleomeA14Oct2015 cleomeB14Oct2015 cleomeC14Oct2015 cleomeD14Oct2015 cleomeEwithbug14Oct2015


Set E: Dwarf ‘River King’ birch bark

dogwoodshrubA14Oct2015 dogwoodshrubBtrunk14Oct2015 dogwoodshrubCtrunklimbs14Oct2015 dogwoodshrubCtrunklimbsb14Oct2015 dogwoodshrubFlichenlimbs14Oct2015 dogwoodshrubGlichenlimbs14Oct2015 dogwoodshrubHbrokenofflimb14Oct2015


Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.

a sense of place(1)This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.




One Comment on “31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Day 15 ~ Sensing Place

  1. Pingback: 31 Days of A Sense of Place :: Introduction | A Moveable Garden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: