Use your senses to create the “buy-in” required to develop and strengthen your relationship with nature
by Hannah Champeau, Curriculum Coorindator | May 19, 2020
Doesn’t it seem coincidental that seasonal changes this year accompany a change in how humans operate their day-to-day lives? Many have adopted new routines and have been trying things out of their “norm”— while nature carries on (and in some places, carries on into once occupied city areas). When we return to our new “norm,” whatever that will look like, nature will still be there— ever-present, and welcoming with open arms.
Minnesota is rich with public land to explore, but you don’t need to go out of your way to engage with nature. Even from your back yard, a city park, or the boulevard of grass in front of your home, there are ways to engage with nature.
Whether you and nature have been friends for 50 years, or you’re new to this thing, this post is about getting back to the building blocks and using your senses to create the “buy-in” required to develop and strengthen your relationship with nature (unless you have an adventurous, persistent, nature nerd like me to drag you around). The best part about creating and maintaining a relationship with nature is that it does not discriminate. Nature allows anyone to interact with it, and in return just asks for a little bit of respect. Whether you’re a daily hiker, an occasional nature center visitor, or a newbie, there is something for everyone out there.
As an environmental educator, I already have a strong understanding and appreciation of springtime, but once my ritual of going to the gym dissolved, I created a new routine and swapped in daily hikes. I took this as an opportunity to watch the forest floor green-up, practice my plant ID, forage new things, and breathe the fresh, spring air.
Some days, I would hike with my co-worker and her dog, and whether she wanted to know or not, I taught her all that I knew about specific plants and fungus, tracking animals, all the while handing her trail nibbles with little warning as to what it was. In a matter of weeks, she created a stronger relationship with nature that will continue to flourish as she creates bonds between herself, her friends and family, her dog, and outdoor adventures.
“From crossing bridges (literally and figuratively) to identifying plants and animal tracks, I feel confident to hike on my own. Prior to our hikes, I always felt I was a danger to myself because I didn’t know the outside world. Now I feel confident enough to hike on my own and take friends and family out too!”
I encourage you all to take some time, maybe it’s just a brain break, or you’re headed out to walk, and engage with nature at a primal level.
Try starting with an outdoor space that is comfortable for you. Maybe your front or back yard. It could be a neighbor’s yard (granted you ask permission), maybe the boulevard in front of your house. A favorite park, whatever is accessible and makes you feel relaxed. Take as much time as you want for each sense.
See: Start with some observations of your space. Take a 360-degree view. How big is it? What is growing here? What stage of life are they in? Plants? Trees? Grass? Are there rocks? Is there concrete, like a driveway or patio? Are there cracks in that? What do you see?
Smell: Spring is peak smelling season (unless you have springtime allergies, then his one can be tricky, my apologies). Can you smell flowers blooming? Manure on the farm fields? Fresh rain? Freshly cut lawns?
Hear: Listening is another great sense to try, but can easily be muddled with sounds of your surrounding environment (cars, construction equipment, planes, etc.). If you are able to detach from the man-made sounds, can you hear the leaves flitter when the wind blows through them? How about the chattering of birds nearby? It sounds foreign at first, but we are quick to acclimate. Can you remember the quiet and stillness of winter?
Taste: One of my favorite ways to engage is to taste nature – or at least harvest it and cook it up. While the woods offer a buffet of food, a yard can offer dandelions (the entire plant is edible in stages), burdock root, and a variety of greens. However, make sure you are 100% positive on the ID of the plant before you pick it or eat it.
Touch: You’ve made it to level 5! Touch can be the most intimidating of the senses in regards to nature interactions. Can you find a grassy space? Have you felt the grass between your toes? Isn’t that great!? Pick a blade of grass. Is it blue-green, or green-blue? Is it flat or round? Look down at the soil where the grass came from. Can you pick it up? What does it feel like? Many insects stay warm in the grass during the springtime, and if you’re comfortable, start sweeping your hand across the grass…does anything pop or fly out?
Once you’ve tried using all 5 of your senses independently, use your new-found confidence to try and use more than one at a time. Maybe you can roll a log and see what critters are lying below, or create a bird feeder out of pine cones, peanut butter, and birdseed. The possibilities are endless!
You don’t have to know the answer to every nature-based phenomenon to be able to interact with it. The goal is to create a spark, engage with, and become comfortable with nature. Don’t sweat it if you’re not yet comfortable after a few hikes and a bike. The best things in life always take time!