Second Nature

Exploring our senses can foster our connection to the world around us. The more aware we are when outside, the more we will notice the presence of other creatures around us. If your senses are really alert, maybe you’ll notice the animals that are hiding and watching you. Are you ready to turn on your animal senses?

Some animals are known for their strength in a certain sense. Catfish have hundreds of thousands of taste buds covering their entire body so that they can find food in their dark murky waters. A hawk can spot a rodent on the ground from thousands of feet high, and keep it in sight as it dives at high speed. Bears with their large noses can smell food several miles away and walk straight to it. The star-nosed mole uses all those tentacles on its nose to feel for worms to eat as it moves through the dark earth.

Following are some simple activities for all ages to improve sensory awareness. They can be done in your backyard, nearby park and the wild woods. Chances are you will notice more each time you do these activities as your senses awaken and strengthen. Practicing these activities improves our ability to be aware of our surroundings and pay attention to details in each present moment. These skills can also improve our abilities to focus and do other tasks, such as reading, writing, sport, music and art.

Have fun with your animal senses! Try them one at a time, and then try them all at once and maybe you’ll become the invisible one watching everyone else.

Deer ears

Deer have large ears! This conveys the importance of the sense of hearing to their survival. They need to hear the slightest sound in the forest to not get caught by a predator.

  • Close your eyes and see how many different sounds you can hear in one minute.

  • Can you tell where a sound is coming from?

  • Open your eyes and list what you heard — how many different sounds did you hear?

  • Now try cupping your hands behind your ears, enlarging your ears like deer, and turn your head to help you hear something more clearly.

  • Also cup your hands in front of your ears to listen behind you without turning around.

  • How many different sounds do you hear in one minute with deer-ears?

  • Do you know where and what the source of each sound is?

Opossum noses

Opossums have thousands of olfactory receptors in their long pink noses. They use this strong sense to find their food, which is just about anything from fruit to crickets and carrion.

  • Close your eyes and notice what you can smell.

  • How many different scents can you smell?

  • Notice what images those scents bring to mind.

  • Can you tell where a smell is coming from?

  • Do you know what the source of the scent is?

  • Open your eyes can you find it?

Raccoon hands

Raccoons have large sensitive hands, a lot like our hands. The sense of touch is essential for their ability to find crayfish, amphibians and other food hiding in the murky waters of streams and ponds. They also use their long fingers to open up our jars, doors and trash-cans.

  • Find an object in nature that you would like to get to know better, or have someone lead you to a surprise object for you to explore with your sense of touch.

  • With your eyes closed, slowly and gently move your fingers onto and all over the object.

  • Find those fun and detailed words to describe what you feel.

  • If you knew what your object was, did you learn anything new about it?

  • If your object was a surprise, guess what it is before you look!

Owl eyes

The eyes of owls are large and firmly attached to their eye sockets. They can not move their big eyes around and instead have very flexible necks to move their heads around when they want to focus on something. To spot their prey, owls spend a lot of time gazing with soft wide peripheral vision waiting for the tiniest movement. We spend most of our time seeing with narrow tunnel vision so this may be challenging to do at first.

  • Look straight ahead and let your gaze go soft.

  • Without moving your eyes, begin to notice what you can see in all directions around you, all the way to the edges of your vision.

  • Notice all the different colors, shapes and movements around you without even moving your eyes.

  • Did you see anything new, something you wouldn’t have normally noticed?

Wild Walk

Most animals are in a constant state of full awareness, always paying attention to themselves and what is happening around them. Are you ready to put all these senses together and take a wild walk?

  • Turn on your owl-eyes,

  • Turn on your deer-ears,

  • Turn on your opossum-noses,

  • Turn on your raccoon-feet,

  • Be present and pay attention, and begin to move through your world, totally aware of all around you yet hidden from those around you.

Second Nature is submitted by the naturalists at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in West Brattleboro. Come take a walk on the trails, open to the public from sunrise to sunset. BEEC is a member supported non-profit organization. Visit for more information and current events.