Friday, September 24, 2021

Andy: Getting a sense of the senses

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle

The ongoing pandemic has changed the ways in which people react to everyday things. Not long ago on a beautiful day I decided to go for an ambitious bike ride. The particular route I chose to get into Portland’s Old Port is an exceptionally scenic one, but one drawback is that it requires going past a sewage treatment plant that is, like most such facilities, extremely displeasing to one’s olfactory sense.

In the past when I’d get to that stretch of the bike path, I’d hold my breath or breathe through my mouth in an effort to lessen the effects of the omnipresent stench that was assaulting me. But this time I consciously took a deep whiff, and when I detected the familiar brutally offensive odor, I was comforted by the knowledge that my sense of smell was still intact, and thus I was not, at least at that point, at risk for having contracted the coronavirus, or any similar infectious agents.

We human beings take a lot of things for granted, and our five senses probably top the list. No one fully appreciates their ability to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell until such time as they’re temporarily or permanently deprived of their ability to do so.

If in order for our planet to survive each Earthling had to voluntarily surrender one of their senses, I’d reluctantly give up smell. I’d miss the alluring scent of sautéed peppers and onions (seasoned ever so subtly with oregano and minced garlic), lilacs in the spring, and the pungent aroma of fresh-cut grass, but I could make that sacrifice if it were for the betterment of all.

If we had to give up a second sense, taste would be the next to go. I’m sure I’d yearn to enjoy the flavor of fresh watermelon, a vine-ripened tomato, or an oatmeal raisin cookie just one more time, but hopefully my brain would retain a memory of those sweet sensations that was vivid enough for me to at least imagine them every so often. Taste and smell are important, but their value falls short of touch, sight, and sound.

Touch might be the sense that’s least consciously appreciated, but without it a person could suffer from frostbite, get seriously burned, or break a bone without knowing it. Any of those scenarios could be life-threatening. Plus, what good would a hug be if it couldn’t be felt?

Many people are terrified by the thought of losing their sight, and it would indeed be difficult to negotiate the world without the ability to see. But given examples such as Louis Braille, Helen Keller, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder, there’s ample evidence that it can be done.

It can be argued hearing is even more important than sight. It’s vital for anyone who walks, runs, or bikes, be it on city streets or country lanes, to be able to hear what’s coming. Joggers running on heavily traveled roads while listening to music are at no less risk than helmetless motorcyclists driving into a setting sun on I-295 during rush hour.

I love hearing chirping birds when I’m walking, the wind in my ears when I’m biking, and baseball on the radio when I’m driving.

Some sounds are sweet, but most noises are a curse. Dropped dishes, yapping mini-dogs, and sirens when there’s a police car in your rear-view mirror: those are noises!

I try to consciously appreciate the ability to hear. Toward that end my goal is to savor the sound of springtime babbling brooks even more than I detest the cacophony of car horns in traffic jams. <

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