Updated: Aug 19, 2022
There's nothing like walking in the woods after the rain for activating your sense of smell. I've been sniffing more than usual when I've been out and about following a recent Tea with a Druid. In it, Damh explains a variety of ways to fine tune your senses to help build your connection with nature when you are outside, based on his bushcraft experiences. He points out that when we go into nature, we often take a lot of our baggage with us, we stomp into the woods, minds elsewhere, and as we do this, we alert the birds and the animals to our presence, warning them there's a pretty effective predator on the loose and ensuring many of them flee before us. He suggests we make a conscious effort to be present when we enter the woods and activate our senses. He learned some of these skills from Tom Brown Jr's Tracker School, and whilst this seems to be at the opposite end of the spectrum to the low key nature connection that I spend my time talking about, it appears the overlap is bigger than I realised.
He showed us an exercise to switch on peripheral vision, wide angle vison or owl eyes, encouraging us to do this when we first step outside to spend time in nature; stop trying to focus so intently on what you can see, let your eyes become soft; standing with your arms out wide, wiggle your fingers whilst still looking straight ahead; how wide can you spread your arms and still see your fingers? This is your peripheral vision. Suddenly there is more to see, you become more aware of what is surrounding you, in all directions. (You can put your hands down now!) Cupping your hands round your ears, and sounds become clearer, you can direct your hearing in specific directions. Doing this in the rainy woods the other day, it was as if I had switched on a white noise rain app (which incidentally I can recommend for chilling out purposes); it felt like I could hear each individual raindrop. These are the ears of the hare. Use your nose more like an animal, the nose of the wolf, to go beyond even just consciously sniffing, but instead to take several short sniffs quickly in a row, followed by a longer sniff, as I am sure you will have seen dogs do, nose in the air - sniff, sniff, sniff, sniiiiifffff. It really makes a difference, and the woods after the rain turned out to be a wonderful place to start experimenting with this, although I also tried it passing a lavender bush on a city street the other day to good effect. The last prompt was to use your skin, your largest organ, to really feel. Roll up those sleeves, pay attention to your arms, can you feel the air on your skin? Which direction is the breeze coming from?
He stopped short of teaching us the deer stalking walk, which was a bit of a shame, although sometimes when I come across a deer in the forest, unexpectedly at dusk, I find that I automatically start to walk more quietly and more gently. Wouldn't it be good if we all walked more gently on the earth?
Obviously the sunshiny days were wonderful. It was great to feel the warmth and I took the opportunity to sit out with friends under trees in parks enjoying the opportunity that, it has to be said, isn't often offered to us in these parts. But when the rain started, I couldn't wait to get out into the woods. It's a weird old hobby standing in the rain (and apologies to my two colleagues who ended up standing out in the rain with me for a long while this afternoon) but the smells are incredible, from the lavender in gardens on city streets, to the woody mulch of the forest, the sounds of raindrops cascading through the leaves, that I often listen to when stuck indoors, the raindrops on your skin. It really is an all encompassing sensory experience and can help build our connection to nature. Of course, I admit we might get the opportunity to experience standing in the rain a bit too much in the west of Scotland, but isn't that an even better reason for finding the joy in it?