It’s time to use all your senses to explore the natural world

I thought I was using all my senses to explore the natural world, but boy was I wrong.

Karen Zimmermann’s book, Nightwalk, opened my eyes and my other senses to the natural world where I spend so much of my time. Karen’s book is unusual and fascinating. It was originally produced for the Maine Master Naturalist Program which she thanked for giving her the opportunity to learn from top-notch instructors and to share the joy of discovery with an inspiring group of like-minded aspiring naturalists.

And I must thank her now for sharing all this information with us. Nightwalk tells us a lot about how wild critters from bears to bats and mosquitoes to Luna moths, use their senses to find food and shelter.

And after we learn all about that, Karen gives us some really interesting activities that will expand our own senses of what’s out there in the natural world.

I was fascinated by her information about black bears. “People have about 6 million olfactory receptions aligning our nasal passages and airways,” Karen tells us. “A black bear has 12.6 trillion… Add to those numbers the fact that a black bear’s brain is only a third the size of ours but the part devoted to smell is five times larger, and it is clear why the black bear is believed to have the best sense of smell of all terrestrial mammals.

“They have been reported traveling up to 18 miles to a food source – in a straight line and in the dark. Bears have developed big noses with the inner surface of the nostrils in folds, allowing a greater area for all olfactory receptors.”

I got a kick out of this information about mosquitoes. “Mosquitoes have sense receptors on their tarsi, or legs, for detecting flavor. They taste us with their legs when they land on our bare skin and then decide whether to have a meal or flyaway. Experiments have shown that they do have preferred flavors.

“People who drink beer and those with O blood type are their favorites. If you consume garlic and apple cider vinegar, they will more than likely seek another meal source.”

And then Karen gives us some good advice.  “Maybe you should think twice about that brew if you are heading into the woods, and just chew on some garlic instead.” Guess I’ll have to add garlic to my hunting backpack!

Linda and I are just getting started on Karen’s lengthy list of activities from hearing to smelling, to improve our senses in the great outdoors. Of course, I don’t aspire to be a bear! But it would be good if I could smell a bear coming my way.

I especially like Karen’s last suggestion, that we keep a nature journal. “As your awareness of the scents, textures, and sounds of the natural world increases,” she writes, “recording what you experience can help you remember it, and even feel it more deeply. A nature journal is a diary and a reminder.” Great advice!



George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.