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Today was overcast and, honestly, kind of dreary and flat looking outside.  The cloud cover was thick and the air was heavy with late spring humidity, even though rain refuses to fall on the too dry ground.  Midday I needed a break from work, so I headed to one of my favorite trails to get a brief respite from the computer screen and work deadlines, despite the uninspiring weather conditions.   I wasn’t expecting much more than a chance to stretch my legs and get some fresh air and be screen free for a little while. After all, it was dreary and uninspiring out. Right?


Upon arrival at a 3 mile loop that I like, I tied my car keys into my running shoe laces and headed down the familiar path into the tree cover.  The light was still flat, the sun refusing to peek through, and I was focused on avoiding roots and getting some exercise. And then I noticed it.  The scent of wildness.


Right, so what’s that exactly?  


Well, friends, the scent of wildness is the wild plum tree that suddenly flaunts its blossoms and invites you to dive into the heady aroma of sweetness and nourishment that is still to come.  The scent of wildness is the deep, rich, earthy smell that last year’s leaves mixed with the moisture of the forest floor produces in abundance. The scent of wildness is the hint of rain in the atmosphere after weeks of dry conditions; the promise of how the soil smells after a deep rainfall.  The scent of wildness is hot pine needles riding on the breeze and the way the quickly running water of the creek carries with it a coolness that reminds you of the way refreshment smells.


David Abram writes, “We experience the sensuous world only by rendering ourselves vulnerable to that world. Sensory perception is this ongoing inter-weavement: the terrain enters into us only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be taken up within that terrain.”


My three miles turned into a sensuous experience that I wasn’t expecting, and I was reminded that giving into the call to wildness is always an invitation into experiencing another layer of life.  By allowing myself to experience the scent of wildness, I became, in a way, vulnerable to the wildness that was surrounding me. I was able to allow myself to be taken up more fully by the landscape and experienced those three miles more fully as a result.


Turns out, that experience (and the scent of wildness) is anything but dreary and uninspiring.  That quick jaunt on a cloudy day suddenly became an adventure in olfactory reception and reminded me that a walk in the woods always gives more than I think it will — even on the days that, at a glance, appear to be uninspiring.  We have to use all of our senses to fully experience the world – and to do that we need to be willing to give in to the sensations that are possible when we notice things like the scent of wildness.

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr

Heidi Barr is the author of 12 Tiny Things: Simple Ways to Live a More Intentional Life (due out in January 2021) as well as four other works of non-fiction. A commitment to cultivating ways of being that are life-giving and sustainable for people, communities and the planet provides the foundation for her work. She lives in Minnesota with her family where they tend a large vegetable garden, explore nature and do their best to live simply. Despite working for an app-based tech start up, she plans to put off getting a smartphone as long as possible. Learn more about her work at