Many moons ago I started my interpretation career as a seasonal ranger with DOC (Department of Conservation). Cognisant of some basic interpretation principles I decided to try a sensory immersion experience.
When a group of children came to the park summer visitor programme, I asked them to remove jandals, jackets, necklaces, watches, back packs, cameras, coins from their pockets etc and off we went. My aim was to engage and focus each of the senses while on a short walk.
Stripped of things we had but didn’t really need, the children walked hands and arms free. Together we walked barefoot on pine needles, on clay and sand and possibly on peacock, weka and wallaby droppings! Some way on we sat down, and I briefly blindfolded the kids to tune them into surrounding noises… cicadas chirping, kookaburra laughing, the wind rustling the trees, yacht fittings clinking and sea slapping the shore. We also engaged them in smelling some of the weird and wonderful scents found in Sir George Grey’s botanical paradise (Kawau Island, Hauraki Gulf National Park). We felt the heat of the sun on our skin, took shade at times under a tree and cooled off wading in the waves.
What would kids make of this exercise today I wonder?
Would they even be parted with their vital accoutrements – iPod, iPad, mobile phone, tablet, MP3player, GPS, Nike shoes, goretex gear and ‘Icebreakers’? Would they engage with the exploratory nature of this activity, be surprised by the unnoticed or unexpected sounds, scents and scenes?
Would I be considered a negligent guide taking this group of children into the park with just the bare basics carried in my back-pack?
I struggled to get my own children ‘de-screened’ and ‘un-digitalised’ these holidays. It seems that the “go-to place” during long holidays is a screen of some sort. Sometimes the offer of an outing was met with reluctance. New Christmas presents within the family – a new iPad and a new smart phone, neither purchased by moi, did not help.
The solution I thought, might be to go to a bach by the beach with no power or cell phone coverage. I thought perhaps the senses would be re-awakened, they’d get a good dose of vitamin D and we’d enjoy beach and bach, and the simple sensory pleasures that come with that combo. We went.
We made “dribbly-drobbley” sandcastles and were wowed and wetted by a sea geyser (blowhole). We played some lateral thinking Pictionary and trialled the new chess-board to build strategic skills. We read aloud The Hobbit. And yes, the kids had some of those exhilarating sensory experiences such as jumping off rocks into a stream, and they happily flung themselves into the air on a rope hung off a mighty pohutukawa.
But on day three the iPad re-appeared and the temptation was there while the battery lasted.
Does it bother anyone else that so much touching and viewing is via a screen, handheld or huge?
In fact touch seems to be a compound word these days … touch-screen.
I don’t mean to be a tech curmudgeon and of course like many people I rely on it and sometimes love it. This blog is written on a laptop and conveyed to you via the wonders of web-erry. But our brief three-day digital detox was wonderful, not just for the imaginative game-playing and communing as a family, but also for re-engaging with nature.
Postscript. On my return from holiday I discovered the work of a passionate collector and interpreter of sounds, Tim Prebble. He reminded me of the significance of sound in our lives and of how we can play with, embellish and appreciate the sounds of nature using technology. Use your i-whatevers to take a look at this!
“…while you focus your eyes using tiny muscles, the only way to focus your ears is by using your mind. This is the crucial difference between hearing and listening. We all hear, but we don’t all listen…sometimes I think that while the eye is seduced by visuals, sound sneaks around the back of our mind and affects how we interpret what we see.” Tim Prebble
You might also want to check out Steve Porteous’ Enhance your senses for better awareness in the latest Wilderness Magazine, Jan 2012,p66.