Thursday, November 14, 2013

When the Earth Breathes, We Can


    I am trying very hard to like this weather.

            It's the middle of November. My world is getting colder and not for just a couple of days but for an inescapably longer and colder time. It's a trend. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.

            So how do you deal with the chilly side of winter weather?

            You go outdoors.

            And find a truly open space, the more open the better. There is something special about open places. In open country you feel different the moment you step out of the car; or out of the door, if the surroundings are right. 
            People say "smell the fresh air." They say "take a deep breath."

            My theory of this 'fresh-air effect' -- there is always a theory -- is that senses we aren't consciously aware of, that we don't know we have, are perceiving sensory input we can't access with any of the five physical senses we are conscious of using.  

            People know they have to get outdoors. Sometimes we say we "have to get out of the house." Closing the door behind us and stepping into a roofless world is a need we feel but can't easily articulate to ourselves because it doesn't belong to the verbal, logical part of our conscious mind -- what Aristotle called "the rational part of the soul."
            Another part of my theory is that this is why people have dogs.

            Most everyone I saw in my outing the other day at Squantum Point Park (see photos), a strip of flat open space by the water in Quincy, was walking a dog. They were really walking themselves, whether they knew it or not, and letting their dogs come along. This is especially true I suspect in cold weather and even more true in urban or quasi-urban places like Quincy.

            Places with lots of cars, buildings, pavement, impervious surfaces. Too much pavement is hard on the animal within. No smells. (Organic ones, that is.)

            When the earth breathes, we can.

            What your dog can smell outdoors practically drives the animal crazy with stimulation. All that stimulation of deep animal senses teaches birds, squirrels and other members of the "higher animal family" (to which we belong as well) how to be animals; how to live on the earth.

            It's sense data, information. Dogs and other animals, unlike like people, can also smell the time dimension. They know who else has walked on this earth, or smelled this bush (or peed on it), in the past. Humans have lost that ability -- except in rare cases. Insert your own joke here.

            I compare this invisible sense data to the pheromones that draw insects to food sources or potential mates. It's a kind of sense of smell, but not one we possess.

            We don't consciously smell or otherwise sense these stimuli -- the qualities of air, light, layers of the sky, water vapor, the thousands of different sorts of vegetation in the natural environment. We may perceive them, but our minds don't know it. But maybe our bodies know it; perhaps our subconscious absorbs it.

            These un-sensed natural stimuli stimulate us, uplift us, deepen our breathing, clear our head, relax our eyes, gentle our hearing, sharpen our thoughts, and put low-level anxieties back to sleep where they belong. We feel more "alive" as a result.

            So now matter how cold and wintery the weather gets, we need to make an effort to get out of doors and get smacked in the face with more life.

            I don't always like the cold weather, but a part of me loves it.