Mud squelches underneath my boots, and I reach out with my fingers to balance myself against a tree. I can feel the pack on my shoulders, hear birds chirping, and smell the sharp scent of pine needles.
I love hiking both because I love nature and because it fulfills nearly all of my sensory requirements. I can go at my own pace and under the power of my own body; only the weather and the wildlife are out of my control. When the world around you is overwhelming and hard to understand, it’s nice to put on a backpack with everything you’ll need for the day and let your legs carry you just as far as you want to go. Along the way, every element of a hike serves as a sensory “snack”. The vestibular input of balancing on rocks as I cross a stream. The feeling of my arms swinging at my sides as I get into a rhythm. The soft, spongy moss that I pause to touch with my fingertips.
I don’t like the dried moss surrounding it, but I notice a smooth piece of quartz that draws my eye.
Later, we stop for lunch and I study the rust-colored mud on my boots.
My pack feels secure; it’s a comforting weight. We get up to investigate the surrounding plants, and I look back at our lunch spot. It’s breathtaking in the sunlight.
I hear my dog lapping up some water from her bowl, and I take a moment to appreciate her presence.
We find some prickly pears and admire their toughness. Centers chewed through, their spiny armor breached, they continue to survive. We don’t touch them; we just look at the color and shape of them.
Across the path, a Ponderosa pine stands tall and broad. This one isn’t in the sun, but I gently scratch the bark and lean in to smell it. Warm Ponderosa pine bark smells like vanilla, and it’s one of my favorite parts of hiking. This one offers a very faint fragrance. It smells like vanilla and fresh cookies and hiking and happiness.
After lunch, we decide that it’s time to head back. Back through the forest, back through the mud, back through the tall grass at the base of the mountain. When we get home, I settle on the lawn with my dog, our muscles tired but happy, and our senses satisfied. Time for a well-deserved nap.