Diane Ackerman, the author behind this adventurous read, is a true sensuist. Her spirited, holistic, and emotive approach to the most basic of subjects – how we sense the world around us – instills a new appreciation for what you’ll see, smell, taste and hear on your next adventure (or maybe even tomorrow at the office!).
A Natural History of the Senses speaks of a greater mindfulness or awareness of our physical experiences that we often suppress and encourages us to think about how our 5 core senses have evolved, how we might extend them beyond their perceived limits and what they can teach us about the enormous and diverse planet that we inhabit.
Many of Diane’s pages draw on her naturally playful and lush language to describe adventures (big and small) in a way that pulls science towards story. Somehow managing to tackle complex issues of physiology alongside myth and religion, Ackerman often seems to excitedly grab your hand as a good friend might, guiding you through our tangled web of senses to connect us more intimately with the past and present in ways that our species most cherished ideas and innovations fail to.
Malibu Creek Campground by Hipcamper by Duke Schillaci
As described in the book’s introduction, Ackerman believes that our senses “define the edge of consciousness, and because we are born explorers and questors after the unknown, we spend a lot of our lives pacing that windswept perimeter.”
Not to be mistaken for a historic novel or story, Ackerman weaves together a myriad of illustrative vignettes, giving each sense it’s own space to expand. There’s no need to rush through the pages. Written more as a stream-of-consciousness narrative, her poet sensibility and style may be tedious for some but if you’re like me, one who enjoys spending a little time on each page soaking up the lingual diversity, you’ll quickly fall for this one.
A moment of stillness amidst an expansive desert at Black Rock Campground by Elizabeth Rubel
Originally required reading as part of my course load in the Design MBA program at the California College of the Arts – I’ve now lost count of how many times I’ve pulled it off the shelf, kicked my feet up on the porch with the birds chirping or snuggled up by a roaring fire to simply flip to a random chapter to read a few pages – renewing my appreciation for the day. At just under 300 pages and paperback, it’s a great size to pack for your next roadtrip, plane ride, beach outing or camping adventure.
Over 25 years old now, I should also note that this is not a rigorously scientific read and some theories Ackerman includes are no longer true. To harp on this, however, would be to miss the true nature of the book.
Moro Campground by Corina Rose Barnick
One of my favorite passages in the book recounts an experience many of us have, perhaps, shared at one time or another – on adventures both big and small.
“People pull up in cars, get out, stand and stare. Nothing need be said. We all understand the visual nourishment we share… Why is it so thrilling to see a tree hold pieces of sky in its branches, and hear waves crash against a rocky shore, blowing spray high into the air as seagulls creak? Of the many ways to watch the sky, one of the most familiar is through the filigree limbs of a tree, or around and above trees; this has much to do with how we actually see and observe…”
As a urban nomad that (not so) secretly wishes she could be running around barefoot or on the water every day, I find this book a refreshing respite from the overwhelming chaos city life sometimes provides. It reminds me to slow down and appreciate the small moments that we often let pass by and to maintain a vivacious curiosity for the “textures of life”.
Michigan pumpkin patch by Sarah Gallimore
Of the senses explored within this book, scent is perhaps the most intriguing to me as an experiential designer and strategist – full of untapped potential and yet often the most difficult to recreate. Of your past adventures, big or small, what scent-influenced memory sits strongest in your mind? Enter to win a copy of this book by visiting Hipcamp on Instagram and commenting on the corresponding giveaway post with your answer!
Lateral Thinker, Outsidesy Urbanite and Design Strategist for people places + our planet. On a good day: Sarah can usually be found eating tacos, chasing her dog, playing in the water or some combination of the three. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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