One spring when I was sixteen, my friend Carol visited me where I lived in Sussex. We took many long walks through Ashdown Forest or into the village of Forest Row. Both of us being philosophical in nature, we spent a lot of our time talking about the purpose of life and other fun things like that. Since it was springtime, we talked about why April was considered “the cruelest month,” and why more suicides occur in spring than at any other time of the year, and how it was that beauty and sadness seem almost synonymous in Keats’ Ode on Melancholy. We also noticed that the most startling quality of spring, especially in areas of severe winter, is the surprising color that constantly amazes. Just a single purple crocus or a few waving daffodils can take your breath away.
One of Carol’s and my favorite activities those few weeks we were together was to take long walks with our eyes closed. Sometimes we held hands, but mostly our hands were vaguely out in front of us so we wouldn’t bump into hazelnut hedges or a silver birch… We walked with delicate care, feeling every root and pebble under our sneakers, smelling the most interesting, unidentifiable fragrances, hearing an approaching person from a long way off, talking very little.
Sounds, especially, were heightened. We soon were able to distinguish bird calls we’d never noticed before. The whisper of each breeze was magnified. We felt soft misty rain intensifying on our noses and foreheads and outstretched fingertips in a completely new way. Smells especially became more vivid. To our surprise, our sensitivity to smells in particular lasted well after our long walks were over. It was as though we’d polished a dulled part of ourselves into heightened consciousness, simply by closing our eyes for a while.
Only once during all those walks did my eyes unintentionally flutter open. The sound of a brook was getting louder, and I worried we might fall in. I glanced at Carol, who was quietly and steadily maneuvering a muddy path along the side of the brook, with her eyes fastened closed. She was heading towards the wooden bridge that we both knew was there. She felt for my hand, and I hastily closed my eyes again, and I didn’t open them again till, an hour later, we had arrived back home.
If you can, take a walk with your eyes closed. If that’s not possible, then use your imagination.
Write about your sightless walk. Imagine the experience from the point of view of someone who has no idea what the sounds, and feelings, and smells represent. How do you describe the fragrance of violets if you don’t know what a violet is and, especially, what a shy cluster of violets by the side of the stream looks like? How do you describe the sunwarmed bark of an oak, if you don’t know what a tree is?
- a sense of honor
- packing donations
- not spending money
- singing your heart out