jayellebee's Blog

January 23, 2011

Sensory Overload

Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 7:09 pm

       The sweet smell of smoke from my neighbors’ wood-burning stove flavored the crisp air as I headed out this morning.    Ethereal tendrils floated out of the chimney and wove their way through naked limbs until a gentle breeze swept in, blurring the image and rattling the dry seed pods hanging from a nearby tree of unknown species.  Nature’s subtle wind chimes.

     Winter sunshine greeted my dog and I as we emerged from the pine and oak canopy shading our country lane.  I turned my face to the welcome warmth while waiting for Shadow to register, catalog, and file the messages left by other animals on manzanita and Scotch broom.  A high-pitched, laughing sound rained down on us from fragrant cedars.  I opened my eyes in time to spot the red head of an otherwise shiny black woodpecker as the bird fluttered from branch to branch.

     We hadn’t advanced very far before the clatter of hooves on pavement alerted us to three young deer crossing the road ahead.  Shadow, in her rush to join the trio, dragged me at the end of her leash.  She choked herself, pulling against her collar.  I resisted, skidding on loose sand spread to provide automotive traction after the last snow.  White tails waved adieu before the deer disappeared around a bend in the road; but, because I had seen them, I realized the divots cut into the mud had been created by the graceful animals exiting post-haste.  I felt like Tonto, kneeling beside those tracks.  Where was my Lone Ranger?

     Shadow ignored the ground, instead following her nose to the spot where the deer had leapt through brush to scamper down a steep cliff.  She stared into the dense foliage, taking in every last nuance of wild scent.  Satisfied at last, my domesticated friend agreed to continue our walk on the wild side.  She paused to sample fresh grass at irregular intervals while birds serenaded us:  cawing crows, cautious quail, jabbering jays.  

     I would have missed the gray squirrel if it weren’t for the alert dog at my side.  The furry rodent scampered to a branch of safe elevation, then turned to hold Shadow’s stare.  The critter gripped an acorn in its tiny mouth, shifting the nut from side-to-side like a miniature stogie.  Shadow inclined her face, smiling.  The squirrel vocalized its displeasure – short bursts of airy sound not unlike the broken squeaker in Shadow’s toy squirrel at home – and beat its paws on the tree.  I bent my knees and slapped my hands against my thighs, mimicking the squirrel’s barks.   Becoming aware of the unmistakable feel of eyes upon me, I located two people watching the comedy from a parked car.  Busted!  Too late to feign normality, I took my improv jazz duet with the squirrel to completion.

     Shadow and I walked past a deserted softball field where a new penny in the grass reflected the morning light.  The coin found its way into my pocket, co-mingling with damp tissues and an empty dog poop bag.   Monetary gain for dog walking.  Sweet.

     We crested a rise to discover a pond so calm the image of trees growing on the far side was duplicated in the glassy water.  Shadow stopped, head up, listening.  I heard nothing, which seemed odd.  The frogs we should have heard were silent.  Shadow backed against my leg.  Protective, or frightened?  Something unseen scurried away in the thicket of dormant blackberry bushes hugging the pond’s shoreline.  Bre’r Rabbit, perhaps.  Hopefully not Bre’r Bear!

     As we rounded the pond, a proud rooster broke the silence, crowing with conviction.  I thought of Ken’s Italian grandmother, Nona.  Many years ago she taught our toddler son, “The  rooster says ‘Ker-roo-koo-koo.’ ”  Several crowing voices could be distinguished as we approached the old clapboard farmhouse.   The master of the hen-house had male companions, sons of his own, perhaps.

     Shadow and I neared home an hour after starting out.  Massive, burgeoning smoke boiled up behind our neighbors’ house, obscuring all that lay beyond.  The threat of fire, even at this soggy time of year, is an ever-present concern in the hills.  The dog and I reversed roles – anxious human dragging reluctant animal at the end of the leash – until I saw a young man tending a burning pile of yard waste, hose at the ready.  I relaxed.  Everything was under control except my breathing and imagination.

     Dr. Seuss’s classic,  And to Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, chronicles a child’s imaginative embellishment of the sights observed on his walk home from school.  When the boy’s father asks him what he saw that day, he falls back on the dull truth.  Had Ken asked me what I saw on my walk this morning, I probably would’ve done the same. 

     “Oh,” I might have said, “not much, really.  You know.  A woodpecker, some deer, and a squirrel.  Nothing unusual.”



  1. Joanne, you’re descriptions are awesome! I am enjoying your writing so much.


    Comment by Jean Hall — January 23, 2011 @ 11:54 pm | Reply

  2. That wouldn’t be Walden Pond, would it? You’ve captured the “aliveness” that nature inspires. Kudos!

    Comment by Donna — January 24, 2011 @ 9:44 am | Reply

  3. I am so on this walk with you and Shadow. I can feel the air, hear the sounds (really good evoking of sounds), see the movement of animal and leaf. Beautiful writing. Strong images.

    Comment by Jean G — January 27, 2011 @ 7:20 am | Reply

  4. Joanne, your writing is beautifully illustrative. I had lost track of you until a comment to an old post on your blog came to my Inbox. You are clearly enjoying your new “home.” Thanks for the morning walk.

    Comment by Chris Pedersen — February 1, 2011 @ 11:19 am | Reply

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