Several years ago, during one of our cross-country treks, we were introduced to a wonderful public radio broadcast called Encounters with host Richard Nelson.
Between his vivid descriptions and his audio equipment, Mr. Nelson is able to capture parts of the Wild North to share with his audience, even without being able to visually show them. His website includes a library of his broadcasts available for listeners.
Acoustic ecology is the study of soundscapes, the sound or combination of sounds from particular environments. All sounds are unique to a particular time and place.
A “soundmark” is similar to a landmark but is a sound that is unique to an area. The National Park Service estimates that sound levels in remote areas can often be perceived by humans at 16 times lower than an average suburban area.
Humans like to rely on their eyes as their primary window on the world. We respond readily to pictures of sunsets, animals, landscapes, faces. But we have all these other wonderful senses: sound, smell, taste, touch. We have all had some sort of experience where a certain smell or sound reminds you of a time or place in your memory: that particular smell of your grandmother’s house, or the way a steady wind makes a cable hum like the old rigging of a sailboat you sailed at summer camp.
Since being introduced to Richard Nelson’s programs, I’ve been trying to capture moments in places we travel with ALL my senses, even closing my eyes and just focusing on the noises and smells around me to imprint a location or an experience. Even during your daily routines, it is worth taking a moment to take a sensory inventory of your environment, the sounds, smells, and feel of your surroundings.
To try your own sensescape experiment, take the time to actually close your eyes (or use a blindfold) and explore where you are with your other senses. Listen to the sounds and note how they interact with each other. Listen to the breeze in the leaves. Touch your surroundings. Feel the cool dampness of the soil. Feel the radiant warmth of the sun where it hits your face, and how different it feels in parts of your skin, not in the direct sun. Smell the trees. Smell the air. Can you hear animals nearby? Savor the way things taste when you eat them. What textures can you feel as you eat?
Keep a travel journal and record not only what you see, but also what your other senses are telling you.