Observation: The Five Senses


What do you feel? Is the space warm and comforting, or cold? Is it exposed to the neighbors, or private and tucked away? Is it breezy or stuffy? Dry or humid? Do you feel the urge to leave the space, or to stay? Does time seem to stand still, or fly by while you’re in the space? Could you comfortably read a book, write, doodle or entertain in it? Spend some time just being. Don’t think, don’t react, just be.

What do you hear? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear airplanes or cars? Water trickling? Can you hear the neighbors going about their day? Is there a dog barking in the background? Hear leaves rustling in the breeze? Are there chirping crickets, locusts or squirrels? What about woodpeckers? Are your neighbors constantly mowing or using a leaf blower? Do you hear marching band practice? Have a path that sounds crunchy? Close your eyes for awhile. Do you hear things off in the distance? When you walk in certain areas can you hear the bees buzzing around? Is there a particular shrub that the birds chirp from in the winter? When I let my mind go, I can hear the skydiving plane off in the distance, and while sitting outside at night, my husband and I can hear the nightcrawlers rustling in an adjacent bed.

What do you see? What is the light like? Do you see leaves twinkling in the breeze? Is anything backlit in the morning sun? In the evening sun? Is there an area that is always sunny or always shady? What kind of shade? Light, dappled or deep? What plants seems to be flourishing and which ones seem to be floundering? What kind of birds do you see in your space? Insects? Are there differences in leaf texture and color? Plants and elements of different sizes and shapes? Are there a lot of straight lines in your space, or flowing curves? What is immediately outside your space? Open space? Mountains? A meadow? A gas station or school? Is there a lot of pedestrian or cycling traffic past your place? Is your street busy? Do you watch your neighbor run out to the mailbox in his undies every morning?

What do you smell? Is there a fragrant tree nearby? Other fragrant plants? Does it smell like smoke? What does the soil smell like? What do you smell after a rain, wet soil, or wet concrete? Can you smell exhaust? Are there herbs that you brush up against as you walk through an area?

What are your habits in the space? Do you have a specific path that you follow? Do you walk through just to get to another space, or do you linger? Does your dog beat a path through the space? Cats? Do you feed the birds or the squirrels? Are there deer or other pests that damage the space? Do you cook there? Entertain? Relax, or tense up and curse it’s very existence?

So did you do all of that in the morning? Now do it in the afternoon and the evening. Observe during the week and over the weekend. Ask your loved ones to try it and compare notes. Do it during the different seasons. I promise you’ll notice different things. One spot that is uncomfortable in the hot summer sun may be a warm reprieve on a sunny winter’s day. A spot may be noisy in the early spring before the shrubs leaf out, but perfectly peaceful during the summer. That hedgerow of chanticleer pears may glow red in the fall, but make the entire block smell of sweaty socks in the spring.

Now take some time to think about all of those observations. What do you enjoy, what do you dislike, and what are you indifferent about? (I really don’t mind the plane in the background, it adds to the soundtrack of my space.) What things that you can disguise, what must you live with and what can you change? What aspects must be worked around?

Those are observations based on emotions and senses. As “woo-woo” as that may sound to some, emotions anchor us to a space. We don’t long for our childhood homes because we love the teeny-tiny bedroom we had. We long for the sentimentality, memories and emotion in the space. Your outdoor space should hold the same emotional values because with any luck (and good planning) you will be building memories and sentimentality in it.

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