Nature Sense – Rediscovering the stories that delight us.
Last week I was hugely privileged to be part of a 2 day workshop at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust at Slimbridge. The event was organised by Sarah Bell of Exeter University, in partnership with the RSPB and WWT, and we were looking at how to think about bringing more diverse groups to our sights, including people with sensory impairments, by making the most of the rich variety of sensory features habitats encompass.
As our conversations about multi sensory experiences continued over the 2 days we were together, my thoughts kept returning to the idea of how we learn about the world as pre-school children.
As infants we yearn to enjoy the world with every sense equally and fully. Watch any toddler interacting with an object for the first time. See how much they want to connect with it and know it thoroughly, to hear what it sounds like; shaking it, beating the ground with it. To explore its shape and various textures not only with their fingers but with their more sensitive lips and tongues. Seeking out and sensually consuming every knowable feature of it. I remember in primary school each of my classmates were as distinctive by their smell as their appearance. And there were some pretty pungent characters! I’m always struck by how children are just as likely, perhaps even more likely to describe someone, particularly an adult they don’t like, by their smell, as by their appearance.
I wonder what our perception of the world would be like, if at every opportunity, when encountering an object, we were encouraged to explore all of it’s properties on equal terms. How much richer would our understanding of the world be, if, as well as describing an object by it’s shape and colour we were equally concerned with qualities such as oder, resonance, surface texture and spatial context. And in turn, what questions might our awareness of these properties raise for us? Take the oak tree for example. We are taught to recognise it by it’s distinct outline, the unique shape of it’s leaf and of course by it’s fruit the acorn. But does the oak have a distinct and unique cent? I suspect it might! When played by the breeze,Is the sound of it’s canopy distinctly oakish? Perhaps! And what relationship does it have with it’s neighbours?
There was a lot of discussion about “interpretation during our workshop. But again, reflecting on our formative learning experiences, it seems to me that what engages us the most are the stories that delight and enchant us. And the most powerful of these . The tales that really stay with us. Are the ones that come alive by speaking to all of our senses.
So I think the invitation to all of us is to continue to be like children,, to explore and discover the diverse ways sites and habitats behave and express themselves,. So we can work with them to reveal and share their unique and distinct stories, to delight and enchant all who encounter them.