After 22 years of living in the same house, and for most of the time, staying quite close to  that house, I am very aware of regular seasonal events. In mid winter, the sun sets behind a particular hill at a particular time, and on one of those rare cloud free days around the Solstice, I set out for my daily walk just before sunset. I have walked the same stoney track every day for that long period, but because my walk of choice is in a wildlife rich area, there is always something of interest. On this occasion, my attention was caught, not by anything living, but by something that is responsible for all life.  


I could have been bored, I could have been so bored with the daily sameness of my perambulation,  but for the memories of working in an office of 6 metres square, crammed desk-to-desk with seven other people, and the million miles gulf between me and them. And my work on a massive construction site, my senses assailed with welding arcs, pneumatic hammers, and thousands of tons of reactor grade steel, craned and tugged into a brutalist functionality, like a prop from a Sci-fi dystopia. And on and on, through machine shops, night shifts, three-on, two-off shifts, and sole responsibility, until early retirement. 


So, these days, nothing much is plenty, but I will use all my faculties, in wanting, like Henry David Thoreau,to get a lot out of a low key life, or, in my case, to make a consistent virtue from my idea of necessity.


We use our senses so poorly, shambling through our days, distracted by gadgets and trivia. Perhaps modern life is making us less sense-itive, but I am just guessing, I don't really know. Neuroscience research says we could do better. Dr. Harriet Dempsey Jones at Oxford writes that : "we can train to improve what we can see, hear, feel, taste and smell". In regard to touch, participants improved by 42% after 2 hours training. Paying relaxed attention to the world outside of invented problems is a good start. I might not now be able to develop super hero powers, but on my late afternoon stroll along the same old track, I did manage to notice the extraordinary quality of a most fundamental phenomenon of nature.


Writer Ron M. spent 2 years of his destructive young life exploring North America, but on his return to plain old Northern England, when exiting from a railway station, he was struck by the beauty of the sunset, which, he thought, rivalled any that he had seen in the States. He comments that appreciation is a matter of perspective, and walking around with our heads down will reveal only dirt. Ron M. became a reformed character as a result of his traveling experiences. 


It was the quality of light that impressed me as well, on my short December walk. The trees on a steep bank beside the track were illuminated in a golden glow, with barely discernable green shades, and definite orange finger like twigs in the crown of a Beech, all set against an ice blue sky. A brief visual treat, and as the sun moves round it's annual path to fall on different aspects of the landscape, and the cold wintery scent of the air changes and I am otherwise engaged, it might not be quite the same again.


Just a few years after Henry Thoreau was living in the Massachusetts woods (1845), Scotchman John Muir was taking a 1000 mile walk (1867), from Indianapolis, Indiana to the Keys of Florida. Muir was, like Thoreau, fascinated by botany, in nature generally, and saw the variations of light on landscape as a wondrous event, of more than physical significance. He felt quite at home amidst the familiar natural presences at the start of his adventure, but in Florida he was overwhelmed by change. The greatest difference being in what he describes as the tone and language of the winds, between the grassy plains or the Tennessee Oaks, and the Magnolia and Palm influenced sounds of the  Southern breezes.               


Our senses are dominated by vision, a bias of around 80%, according to the American charity Vision Aware, and we tend to disregard other sensuous inputs, until we call on them for some reason.  When percussionist Evelyn Glennie became almost completely deaf at the age of 12, she still wanted so much to play music. She learned to, as she puts it, hear with her whole body. She is now a world class performer.


We all have limiting circumstances of one sort or another; financial, physical, legal, and possibly self imposed. Not many people could wander around America for two years with just a tent, very little money, through rain and freeze, Like Ron M. John Muir survived without a tent, or a cover of any sort. If he could not find a cheap room, he simply spent the night on the ground. I will not be doing that, even in summer. Too skeletal, too old, too far from the fridge. For some others, just stepping out the door and battling through winter storm for the sake of the brief outing is an achievement. I know that to be a fact, and the value of modest accomplishments is recognised, in respect of the less able, by Evelyn Glennie in her TED talk. Happy is happy is happy. It's all in the head.


I don't think that I will be venturing much further than the pages of a travel adventure book for a while. I have been to the Preselis, and Slebech woods, and Newgale lots of times, but I am not sure, now, that I know those places at all.  


Harriet Dempsey-Jones, The Conversation website . October 31, 2017. 


The full name of Ron  M. is withheld.


Evelyn Glennie : How to Truly Listen. TED talks.  17 Nov. 2019

1000 Mile Walk to The Gulf.   John Muir.  Kindle edition. 






Readers who submit articles must agree to our terms of use. The content is the sole responsibility of the contributor and is unmoderated. But we will react if anything that breaks the rules comes to our attention. If you wish to complain about this article, contact us here

Readers who submit articles must agree to our terms of use. The content is the sole responsibility of the contributor and is unmoderated. But we will react if anything that breaks the rules comes to our attention. If you wish to complain about this article, contact us here