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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Happiness is Being Aware of Your Senses | 01-03-2013
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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Jan 3, 2013

evelynevandersande_mugA teacher asked her class to list the seven wonders of the world. There were a few differences, but most votes went to the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the wall of China and so forth. While she was collecting the papers, the teacher noticed that one student had not handed in her paper.

She asked the young girl if the assignment was too difficult. The girl answered, “Yes, a little; there are so many.” Trying to help, the teacher said, “Maybe you could tell us a few and we can help you decide?” The girl replied: “I think the seven wonders of the world are see, hear, touch, taste, smell, laugh, love.”

The classroom grew still. Those are so simple and ordinary, we forget how wonderful they are.

I have found that the people who truly know how to enjoy their senses are people who have had a brush with death – people who had a serious illness but recovered. It is a hard way to learn, but they live day by day, enjoying each day as much as possible.

That is a bit sad, because this happiness is within everyone’s reach, but we forget to grab it. Being surrounded by nature makes the enjoyment of your senses easy – but here again, we have to learn a few key steps.

I do many interviews for the Rattler, the newsletter from the Placerita Canyon Nature Center. I always ask this question early in the interview: “How did your love of nature start?” People warm up right away.

Childhood memories tumble out: working in the garden with a grandparent, going hiking or looking under stones, going to the Sierras every summer with family. Sometimes it takes a little help to learn how to really see and enjoy the nature around you.

I do not pretend I can take you by the hand and go for a little hike, but we can review a few things together that can make using our senses more pleasurable.

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

Photos: Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates

See: That is an easy one. We are surrounded by beautiful mountains that change with the light at different times of the day. Trees are everywhere in this valley. Usually the sky is clear, and we can enjoy it freely. Do you notice that once we go over the Newhall Pass, the sky is quite often cloudy?

ev010312aHear: This one is dear to me. If you go hiking at full speed, or if you are listening to your iPod, you are going to miss something special. We have an exercise we do on the trail with the children. We ask everyone to stop, be still for 10 seconds and tell us what they hear. You will be surprised – really surprised – if you do that, to find how many birds you can hear. You also hear branches creaking, the sound of the wind, all kinds of little sounds you would have never noticed before. At this time of year, walking in dry leaves and hearing all of that crackling brings a lot of satisfaction.

ev010312fTouch: One of our trails that is wheelchair friendly was planted with plants that make a lasting impression if you touch them: sharp leaves like the yucca that was used as needle by native Americans, soft leaves of the Yerba Santa that feel like velvet. All of this fresh, green grass is calling me to remove my shoes and take a few steps in it. The moss is growing on the rocks like a soft mat, and it feels good to brush my hand over it. Hug a tree? Why not? At least feel the rough bark on a tree like the coastal live oak and compare it with the smooth bark of a sycamore that peels off under your fingers.

ev010312kTaste: Hmm. I have a problem with this one because I am not supposed to tell you to eat anything in the park, since people can have allergies to many plants. I took a photo of the mint in my backyard, and you know how refreshing it is to chew on a mint leaf. There are other plants like this in the park, but I will keep quiet. One source of food I can tell you about is the acorn, which was the most important food source for native Americans in our area, the Tataviam. They did not live in Placerita; they were located in Newhall but would come to gather acorns in Placerita when the crop was ready. Acorns need to be ground, leached carefully because they contain tannic acid, then made into mush or meal. Whole acorns were stored for winter food. I have eaten pancakes made with acorn meal a few times, and they are nutty and delicious, but the preparation of the acorn meal takes time.

ev010312dSmell: That is a delicious one In our everyday life, it is common to see a flower and put our nose into it to get a nice smell. In nature you often have to smell with your hands. There are many flowers but their scent is light. If we want to have a strong perfume, we rub our hands in sage brush and black sage and all the smell of the chaparral will envelop us, it is so intense. White sage is still burned by native Americans and used in purification ceremonies.

Sagebrush was called “cowboy cologne” and it is a powerful one. The cowboy would brush against it on his horse and the sage bush would perfume him for days. Every season brings us different smells. How can I describe the cold and crisp morning air, while the ground is wet and mushrooms pop out in a single night? After one night of frost, the air smells different – a little sharper.

To return to the beginning of my story, this young girl mentioned “laugh” and “love” as wonders of the world. In the spirit of this exploration of our senses in this New Year, go take a walk with a friend on the trail, and maybe you will share a laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

All my best wishes to you for the whole year around.

 

 

Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.

 

ev010312b ev010312c ev010312e ev010312g ev010312i ev010312j ev010312l ev010312m ev010312n ev010312o ev010312p

 

 

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