by Randy Pierce
Randy, as a blind person, what exactly is the thrill you get from the hiking to the summit of a mountain?
I understand the dubious nature of that question even when posed by my well-intentioned friends. It is difficult for most sighted folks to fully comprehend my world without sight. I certainly did not and could not grasp the thought when I had vision. In my imagination, my idea of being blind was neither worse nor better than it actually is, just inaccurate.
It isn’t that my other senses are any better than before I went blind. It’s that I pay better attention to my other senses now. In doing so, I have learned a little more of the language of scent, sound, touch, and taste. The enhancement that this new ‘language’ brings to all my experiences is astounding. Vision can be splendid and awe-inspiring, especially when considering the scenic views of nature found in the White Mountains. Vision can also be a distraction, hiding away some other hidden sensory gem of an experience.
In a poem entitled Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant wrote, “To him who in the love of nature holds / Communion with her visible forms, she speaks / A various language” I’m still getting better at appreciating the ”various language” of nature, but try to imagine some of this with me. The babbling brook is easy to hear and visualize, as is the rushing roar of a waterfall. Those experiences are powerful, single-sense perceptions. Standing on a trail and pausing for a rest, you feel the wind caressing your skin as it cools the moisture on your brow. The air carries upon it the scent of pine and the sound of branches rustling in the same breeze – not just the sound of the wind moving one branch or one tree but an entire forest in a symphony of subtle sound. With practice, you can even tell much about the type of forest within which all of this exists. In appreciation, a deep breath pleases the palette with crisp and fresh air – rife with flavor lost to a mind distracted by the stimulus of sight. If that sounds incredible, it is. Each trip, I encounter a few more of these moments, and yet each mountain, each moment, is different and speaks to the “surround sense” world which I am privileged explore.
Many experiences confirm the reward that entices me to the trails. I gain vast and rich experience through the eyes of my fellow hikers and through our mutual accomplishments. I crave the accomplishment of the summit and the bonds of community. I desire the mental reflection atop a summit with nothing above me and the world sprawled below. But most of all, I yearn for the chance to learn the deep and rich language of synesthesia for all my senses, within a wilderness that has so very much to say – if only I can learn to listen with all of the senses still available to me. In the ascent, the descent, the summit, and all along the journey, it is this full sense of the world that is my reward. What a “various language” indeed!