Monday Motivation: It’s what our world is made of
In a little more than a month, we will be hunting for truffles in Istria during the course of our Croatian writing retreat. It’ll demand a keen sense of smell, I imagine – although I’m pretty sure the noses that sniff them out will be canine, or perhaps porcine, and not human.
Today, Trish and I walked our neighbour’s dog, Aggie, down the old railway track – now a bicycle path – that runs alongside our marina to the embankment in Bedford. It’s a lovely walk that takes you under an overhang of sycamores and planes, ash and horse chestnut. On either side of the path lie banks of wild flowers and nettles. Of course, in autumn the flowers have fled, although here and there you’ll spot a desiccated blackberry.
But what assails you as you stroll down the green tunnel of vegetation are the smells: of earth, of decaying leaf mould, of autumnal dampness. It’s easy to imagine networks of fungi underground transmitting their elemental messages from tree to tree, from copse to copse.
Aggie, a fine and silent hound (she only barks at swans) stops frequently, as dogs do, to savour the olfactory evidence of previous perambulating canines – although what excites her most are the traces of the squirrels and rabbits that she detects en route.
It’s a pity that dogs can’t write, because if they could they’d give us insight into a world in which the senses play a far greater role than they do in ours.
Imagine a consciousness in which words don’t exist – but an infinite range of smells tells you all you need to know: a large, aggressive dog passed this way just minutes ago; a squirrel is perched somewhere in that tree; a rabbit nibbled beneath this patch of honesty several hours ago…
Our senses might not be as acute as our pets’ – but we must do what we can with what we have, and report, in our writing, on all the sensations we experience: the heady perfume of wild jasmine, the plash of water at the weir, the gleam of sunlight that intermittently penetrates the canopy above us, the taste of raindrops on our tongue, the rough contours of an old oak’s trunk against a trailing hand.
It’s what our world is made of. It’s how we make the world of story come alive.