It’s been really overcast and, honestly, kind of dreary and flat-looking outside lately. The cloud cover has been thick and the air heavy with spring humidity after two days of constant rain. Mid morning I needed a break from work, so I headed to one of my favorite trails. Despite the uninspiring weather conditions, it was time for a brief respite from the computer screen. I wasn’t expecting much more than a chance to stretch my legs and to get some fresh air. Be screen free for a little while. After all, it was dreary and uninspiring out. Right?
When I got to the trailhead for the three mile, wooded loop that’s closest to home, I tied my car keys to my laces and headed down the familiar path. The light was still flat, and I was focused on avoiding roots and getting some exercise.
Then I noticed it.
The scent of wildness.
Just kind of hovering, waiting for me to acknowledge it.
Right, so what’s that, exactly?
Well, friends, the scent of wildness is the wild plum tree that suddenly flaunts its blossoms and invites you to dive into its heady aroma of sweetness and anticipate nourishment that is still to come. The scent of wildness is the deep, rich, earthy smell that last year’s leaves mixed with the moisture of the forest floor produces in abundance. The scent of wildness is the lingering hint of rain in the atmosphere; the promise of how the soil smells after a deep rainfall. The scent of wildness rises from damp pine needles and the way quickly running water of a creek carries with it a coolness that reminds you of the way refreshment smells.
David Abram writes, “We experience the sensuous world only by rendering ourselves vulnerable to that world. Sensory perception is this ongoing inter-weavement: the terrain enters into us only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be taken up within that terrain.”
Those three miles turned into a sensuous experience that I wasn’t expecting. I was reminded that noticing wildness with all my senses is a doorway to experiencing another layer of life. By allowing myself to tune in to the scent of wildness, I became vulnerable to it. I allowed myself to be taken up more fully by the landscape. And I experienced those three miles more wholly as a result.
The experience (and the scent of wildness) ended up being far from dreary and uninspiring. That quick jaunt on a cloudy day suddenly became an adventure in olfactory reception. It reminded me that time in the woods always gives more than I think it will — even on the days that appear to be uninspiring.
We have to use all of our senses to fully experience the world – and to do that we need to be willing to give in to the sensations that are possible when we notice details like the scent of wildness.