Living in a storied world
Where the wild things are

Returning to our senses

Ponies 12

Hound 4

Following yesterday's post on modern lives mediated by computers and phones, David Abram urges us to return to sensory experience:

"It seems to me that those of us who work to preserve wild nature must work as well for a return to our senses, and for a renewed respect for sensorial modes of knowing. For the senses are our most immediate access to the more-than-human natural world. The eyes, the ears, the nostrils catching faint whiffs of sea-salt on the breeze, the fingertips grazing the smooth bark of a madrone, this porous skin  rippling with chills at the felt presence of another animal -- our bodily senses bring us into relation with the breathing earth at every moment.

Ponies 4

"If humankind seems to have forgotten its thorough dependence upon the earthly community of beings, it can only be because we’ve forgotten (or dismissed as irrelevant) the sensory dimension of our lives. The senses are what is most wild in us -- capacities that we share, in some manner, not only with other primates but with most other entities in the living landscape, from earthworms to eagles.

Ponies 1

"Flowers responding to sunlight, tree roots extending rootlets in search of water, even the chemotaxis of a simple bacterium -- here, too, are sensation and sensitivity, distant variants of our own sentience. Apart from breathing and eating, the senses are our most intimate link with the living land, the primary way that the earth has of influencing our moods and of guiding our actions.

Ponies 13

"Think of a honey bee drawn by vision and a kind of olfaction into the heart of a wildflower -- sensory perception thus effecting the intimate coupling between this organism and its local world. Our own senses, too, have coevolved with the sensuous earth that enfolds us. The human eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with the oceans and the air, formed and informed by the shifting patterns of the visible world. Our ears are now tuned, by their very structure, to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese.


Hound 2

"Sensory experience, we might say, is the way our body binds its life to the other lives that surround it, the way the earth couples itself to our thoughts and our dreams. Sensory perception is the glue that binds our separate nervous systems into the larger, encompassing ecosystem. As the bee’s compound eye draws it in to the wildflower, as a salmon dreams its way through gradients of scent toward its home stream, so our own senses have long tuned our awareness to particular aspects and shifts in the land, inducing particular moods, insights, and even actions that we mistakenly attribute solely to ourselves. If we ignore or devalue sensory experience, we lose our primary source of alignment with the larger ecology, imperilling both ourselves and the earth in the process.

Ponies 10

"I’m not saying that we should renounce abstract reason and simply abandon ourselves to our senses, or that we should halt our scientific questioning and the patient, careful analysis of evidence. Not at all: I’m saying that as thinkers and as scientists we should strive to let our insights be informed by our direct, sensory experience of the world around us; and further, that we should strive to express our experimental conclusions in a language accessible to direct experience, and so to gradually bring our science into accord with the animal intelligence of our breathing bodies."

Ponies 9

Words: The passage above is from "Waking Our Animal Senses: Language and the Ecology of Sensory Experience" by David Abram, an essay first published  in the Wild Earth Journal (1997). To read it in full, go here. The poem in the picture captions is by Scottish poet & translator Alastair Reid (1926-2014), a friend from my New York City days. The poem appeared in his beautiful collection Weathering (Dutton, 1978). All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: An early morning encounter with ponies grazing on our village Commons.



There is a tilt in the air
that the fox knows,
leaping into the moment
as if after a mouse.
The geese in reverse vees
follow the sky's scent home.
Horses tremble joy in fields
as something new passes over.
Trout hump up, their backs
grazing warmer freshets.
But we in our overheat,
hunch in overcoats,
refusing to smell
spring all around us,
concentrating instead
on the politics of winter,
words of anger, nostalgia,
not the syllables of green.

©2019 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Dear Terri

This is what I needed today to reaffirm what I have been experiencing with the sudden rain that has fallen in our high desert. The precipitation has awakened my senses to clusters of weed and grass that cover the fields like a green ermine & the burst of blossoms that ornament the Joshua trees like white finials drawing one's attention to the art of something ancient yet awkward, beautiful and humbly striving to reach for
something in the sky or air. And though, that something is unknown, it is there like an idea, a dream, a scent or lost spirit/sense of self. I am at times. rather mesmerized by this change in landscape, scenic and climatic.

I love everything about this essay, including the gorgeous pictures of horses and field with the ever vigilant but adorable observer, Tilly, looking on. But one of the lines that touched me most washe following -

"felt presence of another animal -- our bodily senses bring us into relation with the breathing earth at every moment."

I have a dear friend who has recently given up much of her time on the screen, (hone and pc) to return to nature and her pets. She feels that the door world is deeply understood by animals, their senses are honed to relate to the changes in weather, growth cycles and whatever spiritual essence of entities exist there. She professes these tendencies are innate in both her cat and the wilder animals that come into her garden. She talked of how she often falls asleep stroking her feline knowing ( consciously or unconsciously) she is connecting to a deeper part of herself and the animal wisdom/magic that her pet internalizes. As in myth or legend, cats are often perceived as the guardians to the other world . So this poem kind of captures her character/ wisdom and the embodiment of the quote I stressed by today's essayist, David Abrams.

To Bella

Twilight rubs against the earth
curling her long shadow
around rooftop and tree,
and you settle in my lap.

The moment filters its content
through your rhythmic purr;
and dusk becomes your coat of fur
letting me fall to rest

as my fingers stroke
its plush sense of warmth.
This is your time of day
as tremendous eyes
glow on the hearth of hours

burning with knowledge
of what has been & what will be.
Your instincts shadow
the other world and guard mine
as I sleep. Outside --

the garden slumbers in frost
and the moon fills its saucer
with timelessness, the song of winter owls.

P.S. Also, have some good news regarding my writing. Two of my poems, which were inspired by essays from your blog , "well -Being" and "My Daughter Sees Green" are going to be published in the Spring edition ( in print) of Witchs' and Pagans Magaizne, run and edited by Anne Niven. It's a lovely and interesting publication that covers all aspects of wiccan culture, fables, myths and counsel on natural remedies, wildness etc. I want to Thank you, Jane, Stuart, Edith and everyone else on your blog who has read and continually taken an interest in my poems. I am very happy for this chance to be published in this forthcoming April issue and deeply grateful for the inspiration and beautiful diversity of ideas, art and perspectives Myth and Moor supplies, enriching all of us as writers and artists.

Take care,
my best

Hi Jane

What a beautifully voiced poem! I love the way you characterize the sensory awareness of nature and her species -- from the fox sensing "a tilt I he air" to how "horses tremble with joy in the field". They know when change is coming and they react. There is om much to learn from them about the earth and our own, forgotten or latent wildness.

And how sad it becomes when we hunch over engaged only in our tech world or routine. We lose sight of what is important, our mind and our soul, our connection to the landscape and our own humanity. How well you defined that truth in these lines

as something new passes over.
Trout hump up, their backs
grazing warmer freshets.
But we in our overheat,
hunch in overcoats,
refusing to smell
spring all around us,

Thank you for sharing this poem! It is timely and so significant.

My best always,

Wendy! Many congratulations on your upcoming publication. That is so wonderful and well-deserved. I'll look forward it! I do love your poems so much and I'm delighted that they will have a broader audience. This one to Bella is lovely as ever, particularly that last stanza which left me dreamy. Much love, Edie

Yes. It's all so tiring, the constant politics and rage of this time. I'll look for that green, Jane. Thank you.

Another lovely post, Terri. This evening, my youngest son and I took our pup for a walk in our Seattle neighborhood. As he often does when he's feeling a bit bored, he asked me for a "challenge". By this he means some kind of puzzle or riddle. Today I asked him to find a cloud that looks like an animal. He came alive with excitement. "There's a dolphin! There's a fish!" Then it was my turn so he asked me to find and name five types of flowers. We live in a busy, growing, and often grumpy city, but I'm so grateful for these moments with my children and our natural world. Grateful for you, too.

Hmmmmmmm thinking. I always seem to know so much more in a poem than I know
in any other way. You always seem to get it!



Oh my--do I agree. But that rage is like a disease infecting us all. It blots out our senses and our good sense.


YES YES YES!!!! Wendy.

You keep going poet-wise which is a kind of widdershins that displays the universe.


Hi Edie

Thanks so much for the support and lovely commentary on my poem!! I so deeply appreciate it Hope all is well with you and yours. Have a wonderful weekend!

Take care
My Best

Dear Jane

Thank you many times over for the encouragement and often inspiring me with your own perspective and ideas. I deeply appreciate it!!!!

Take care
my best always

Oh! Edie

What a wondrous experience to have with your son. His imagination alive and vibrant and then he challenges you. There is the muse, the invitation to write a poem, the walk and exchange of ideas, love and understanding itself, is also the poem. I can deeply understand you sense of gratitude for moments like this. We all need them to make the best of the world we live in.

Thank you for sharing that,
it is uplifting!

Take care,

The comments to this entry are closed.