Let spring awaken your senses

As I walked the pathways that had been inaccessible through the winter months, the sounds and smells greeted me like old friends.

March 23, 2011 | | Back Issues | Community | Departments | Headwaters Nest | In Every Issue | Spring 2011

As I walked the pathways that had been inaccessible through the winter months, the sounds and smells greeted me like old friends.

by Bethany Lee

I remember when I was younger that I loved lying on the ground on early spring days, looking at the blue sky and clouds. The ground was still cold as the deep frost melted, but the air held the promise of warmth and longer days ahead. As I walked the pathways that had been inaccessible through the winter months, the sounds and smells greeted me like old friends.

Our stream gathered momentum with the annual runoff from the rolling hills and fields. By listening to the water under the ice, I could gauge the progress of the season. The water became louder each day as the ice thinned. The ice became clearer until I could see what lay beneath. I watched for the ice to release its captive grasses. Soon, the smells of spring began to emerge from below.

As adults, we still feel spring “awaken our senses.” As we drive home from work, we lower the windows and breathe in that still-crisp air, thinking that we are “enjoying spring.” But with the traffic and lights, noise and exhaust, radio on, our senses are at once heightened yet confused.

When our children are first born, we use all of our senses singly and without confusion to soak them in. Quietly and with careful hands, we discover their every fold and crease, and soon the subtle nuances of skin texture and colour are indelibly etched in our minds. A tiny difference from one day to the next is noted and examined. Our children’s most intimate smells are inhaled and identified. We know the difference between how they smell when they are robust but tired after a day in the sun compared to when they are languishing and feverish. Their breath alone can tell us more than any digital thermometer.

Yes, quite quickly we become accustomed to using all of our senses with our children.

But just as soon, our senses seem to be left behind! After those early days, our senses become dulled once again as we turn them off one by one, replacing the sights, scents and sentiments with … sensory overload. Even here in the hills, where life is wondrous and waiting to be explored at every turn, we lose the ability to use our senses as we did when we were children, with child, or holding that little one in our arms.

Our children are dragged into this cacophony early on. I admit that I have been complicit in looking for constant and bigger, better, louder distractions for them and for ourselves. We plug into the iThis or the iThat. We don’t want to listen to their cries, we want to forget work, drown out our neighbours, erase lingering household or farm smells.

What happens when we are constantly disconnected from our senses? Researcher R. Murray Schafer developed the term “schizophonia” to describe the splitting of sound from its origin. For example, when we plug our ears with portable music during a run along a forest path, a disconnect develops in the brain: the music is not created in the environment we physically occupy.

Conversely, the things that happen around us on that run, like the crow cawing and the whoosh of air as it flaps its wings, the sticks snapping beneath our feet, are soundless as the music fills our heads. Our con-fused brains actually have to work harder to connect and interpret the conflicting environmental signals.

So this season, I am vowing to use my senses and discover them again with my child. Really, it should be easy. I think it comes down to returning to mindfulness, awareness and appreciation for our natural environment. I will practise running without music. I will breathe in my son and try to be aware of how he is feeling. I will absorb the colours around me and let my brain discover them once again, unhindered, just as I did when I looked up at the blue sky and white clouds when I was young.

We all know that, given the chance, children are especially good at describing their full mind and body experiences by using all of their senses. But it does require a commitment from us parents to put away our own electronic devices, go outdoors for more than fifteen minutes, and exercise all five senses fully, along with our ability to gather information through balance and acceleration, even temperature.

I have an exercise that I use with adult writing classes that focuses on heightening awareness. I ask students to go out somewhere on campus and describe a place fully, using all of their senses, but without saying exactly where they are. Imagine the delight when they read their pieces to the class and everyone knows instantly where they were writing from! (Ah, the power of the senses. It works every time.)

And there is a personal exercise that I try to do every time I am somewhere outside with my son, now age six. Somewhere along our journey, we come to a full stop and ask:

What do we see?
What do we hear?
What do we smell?
What do we know about this place?
How do we feel inside?

Bethany Lee is the online editor of kidsinthehills.ca, a sister site to inthehills.ca, where she also writes a regular blog. Illustration by Shelagh Armstrong.

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Family friendly,  kid events in the Hills

Get Growing

Kick off the growing season with your little ones at Everdale’s Seedy Saturday on April 30, from 11 am to 4 pm ($3 per adult, children are free). This could be your first visit to a farm this season, setting the tone and inspiring you and your kids to get growing! For already avid gardeners, there will be organic and heritage seeds, plus transplants ready to start your vegetable garden off right. Seriously seedy kids and parents can take part in the seed exchange. This is a great family event where kids can play in the Little Farmers Fun Zone and visit the farm animals. everdale.org

Kids Fun Run

Run Dufferin is a non-profit organization with a goal to support and promote health, fitness, community, and especially running in and around Dufferin County. On May 29, Run Dufferin will host their first run, named “Chase the Tornado” after the tornado that ripped through Grand Valley 25 years ago. A kids’ 1km fun run takes place at 9:30 am. Register online or in person at Winemakers on Broadway in Orangeville. runningroom.com

Wellies to Wishes

The art in this fun auction can truly be called “mixed media.” Local artisans of all backgrounds create works on the subject of the ubiquitous Wellington boot. The treasures will be auctioned off at the Dufferin County Museum & Archives on April 30 at 7 pm, with local auctioneer Bob Severn working the crowd. Funds raised support children, youth and families in Dufferin County, enhancing recreational opportunities in support of better health and wellness. Tickets $20; email [email protected]

Summer camps

Finally, if you are thinking ahead to summer camps, remember to check kidsinthehills.ca for listings and notices in late spring. We will post a comprehensive guide to camps in our region. One that stands out to us is CACY (Caledon Arts & Crafts for Youth). For over 50 years, CACY has been providing creative development camps and workshops for children in the Caledon community. The popular summer arts program offers high quality instruction by local professional artists. Keep CACY on your radar, their program listing goes up at cacy.ca in late April. Registration is on Saturday, May 28.

It’s our birthday!
That’s right, Kids in the Hills just turned one!

Just over a year ago, we launched kidsinthehills.ca as an online community resource for parents, grandparents and caregivers living here in the hills. Along the way, we’ve made friends with creative people who are showing us that there are many different ways to raise children, work and somehow balance it all out. We love to hear stories of those working and living in our community, so if you think you know someone who should be profiled, send me an email at [email protected].

Happy Spring!

About the Author More by Bethany Lee

Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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