Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sensory Treasure Box

Sounds indelibly imbedded in my memory are the  slow "Zzzzzzzid" of a tent unzipping, the comforting crackle of a fire, the harmless and friendly crunch of  feet passing by our camp and the late night murmur of voices gathered around the dying embers. Such was the soundscape of my childhood summers.

It is a sensory treasure trove, actually. The unforgettable smell of cold water rainbow trout cooking on the campfire, and the taste, something like sweet water and sunshine and dirt. The sight of stars so close and bright and crisp; meteor showers drifting in and out of my consciousness as I struggle to stay awake. I have to include the deeply imprinted sweet, holy aroma of mountain air in the morning and the sound of camp robbers fighting over the crumbs of last night's dinner.

Since moving to Texas at age 19, my sensory treasure box has expanded to include the sounds of sea birds,  and the thrill of walking the beach at night, vast starry skies overhead but only darkness and moon-kissed white caps visible of the sea. My treasure box holds mornings, waking on the beach warm and dry but with the outside if my bag drenched in dew. And more sounds: the omnipresent gulf breeze, carrying away the nonessential bits of conversation, noisy Bronze frogs belting out their raucous courtship songs,  drifting off to the roar of the waves crashing on the shore, so much louder and more tangible at night.

I am unable to think of summer vacation without picturing a campground. I am certain that at times, my children wish this wasn't the case. Yet they have experienced some of the greatest beauty our country has to offer and know firsthand the joys and perils of a life lived outdoors. No matter my flaws as a parent, this is the gift I'm offering them: Creation.

I think boredom is good for humans. Having to entertain oneself, especially in the wild world, opens our pores to the sensory input; I want my kids to know what wet sand feels like, how sparks and ashes feel on your skin, the thrilling joy of waves crashing into you, the wonderful biting freshness of dry, alpine cold. I want them to wonder why the world is wet in the morning, which frogs are keeping them awake, what made that foot print -- camel or dog?  I want them to experience sunrises and sunsets, starry skies, fog and frost alike. I love that when we camp, my kids put themselves to bed at 8:00 and sleep well past sunrise, the kind of tired that only a day of fresh air and activity can create. 

We have taken our kids to amusement parks and the older kids have been on cruises. Yet they talk less about those experiences then the fun they had on the nighttime scavenger hunt with their cousins, or the amazing shells they found on the beach. I cannot manufacture the experience of waking to a seaside covered in huge sparkling square spider webs. Even Disney cannot build a theme park that can hold a candle to the Perseids Meteor Shower and there is not a restaurant on earth that can top a rainbow trout caught from an Idaho stream and cooked on a campfire.

I believe the difference is the sensory component. We are born sensory beings; our first input is taste, touch and smell, hearing and sight come along soon after. These experiences touch our heart, the very core of our being. It's good for grown-ups too; our recent days on the beach revived me in a way I'd forgotten possible. It all serves to remind me that I need, we need, more time outdoors and less time with cell reception. We need the long walk, the smell of trees, our hands in the dirt. We need a mental and physical break from time in cars and in front of screens.

Yes. We need the deep breath. Go forth and breathe!