|Posted by Author on February 22, 2014 at 7:15 PM|
Earlier this month, I found myself walking along an Appalachian ridgeline in West Virginia. Exploring a quiet stretch of trail with a small band of friends, I let my pace relax and turned my senses to the mountain environment around me.
The day was sunny and temperate, but beneath the winter trees' gray trunks and branches, a pearly carpet of snow still spanned the forest floor. Pulling in with my lungs, I could smell, if not taste, the mountain air's distinct freshness. Over the course of the hike, my eyes were drawn to cliff-top vistas, dynamic shadows, and a crisscross of wildlife tracks pressed into the snowy carpet. My ears tuned in to the gently whispering winds and the rubbing of tree branches overhead, but I was more poignantly reminded of the most powerful thing heard in the winter forest: silence.
Like a walk in a park or a stroll in the garden, a mountain hike is strong sensory experience. About an hour in, my eyes, ears, and nose had taken in quite a bit about my surroundings, and they were reminding me quite clearly that I have been spending perhaps a bit too much time in the city. But until I looked down and saw a stone projecting from the snow, my sense of touch - my hands - had played very little role in this experience. I had the subtle and inexplicable urge to bend down and pick it up.
Image: Bruce Perry
With the rock still in my hand, I continued down the trail, studying this new object like one thinks through a puzzle in their mind. I ran my fingers over its rougher and smoother surfaces and studied its hard, angled edges. Rotating it in my palm, I felt for its center of gravity, all the while its inherent coolness pulling warmth out of my hand. After another half-mile, I set this one-pound stone down on the trailside and continued on my way.
As should be obvious to the reader of these words, even after I put the stone down, in some ways it stuck with me. The impulse to pick the rock up, to connect tactually with the landscape, was powerful and allowed me to bond on a deeper level, even if only for a moment, with the natural world.
My impulse to grasp a part of the landscape led me to reflect on the cross-cultural human behavior of touching, carrying, and placing stones for seemingly impractical reasons. Prehistoric peoples across the continents stacked stones into cairns to mark boundaries, communicate, and memorialize. In Jewish communities, well-visited graves tend to show a large amount of small stones, placed in tribute. Buddhist stupas, though often fancifully adorned today, got their start as simple https://www.shambhalamountain.org/great-stupa/history-of-stupas/" target="_blank">mounds of rock and earth.
Images: Raul Isado, Ólafur Már Sigurðsson, and PSQ
When it comes to connecting to the landscape through touch, you of course do not have to be on a mountain ridgeline holding a rock. From touching the crisply engraved https://www.flickr.com/search/?q=vietnam%20memorial" target="_blank">names on the walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to brushing against the soft, delicate petals of a late-fall camellia blossom, touch has an undeniable power to connect a person to the landscape. In your garden, consider ways to increase the variety of textures, encourage touch, and strengthen the bonds between your visitors and the landscape surrounding them.
Image: Nikhil Kaushal