Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Senspiration: Frida, la Vida, and Watermelons

“Love in lowercase: It’s when some small act of kindness sets off a chain of events that comes around again in the form of multiplied love. Then, even if you want to return to where you started, it’s too late, because this love in lowercase has wiped away all traces of the path back to where you were before.”

Book image courtesy of
I wanted to read Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles because it’s set in Barcelona, which is a place I have long dreamed of visiting, a place I find extremely visually appealing, the home of endless Gaudí artwork and Catalan architecture. I was hoping to read the book and feel like I was there, engaged by all of my senses. Miralles occasionally mentioned the names of streets and restaurants and alluded to local artists including Gaudí and Miró, but there were few multi-sensory descriptions of the city. Nonetheless, the book captured my attention.   

The central character Samuel is a German literature professor who was antisocial to a not-very-believable extent, I’ll admit.  Yet within a few chapters he grows from a lonely creature of routine into a more curious, open-minded individual who constantly tunes into what is around him.  He is present in the moment, taking in everything that is happening as if it is a clue to the next step in his life.  He at one point says “he accepted that the leitmotif for the day was ‘Anything can happen’.” It was this keen sensory awareness that kept me intrigued as I read the book.

Samuel is consumed with uncovering the meaning of a chain of interactions that he views as cause and effect or a “love-in-lowercase succession of events.” First a persistent and charismatic cat finds his way into Samuel’s solitary existence. Soon Samuel forms a unique bond with an eclectic neighbor, an editor named Titus, and finds himself writing a book on his behalf, entitled A Short Course in Everyday Magic. It is Titus who offers the perspectives “We live in a world of sensations and feelings.  Always remember that, Samuel.  Never reject your sensations and feelings.  They’re all you’ve got.”  and “Remember that nothing happens without a reason.” Samuel also becomes intertwined with the eccentric Valdemar who thinks human immortality exists on the moon; he discusses a future so splendid that he has nostalgia for it. Ultimately, Samuel finds himself pursuing Gabriela, a beautiful woman whom he met once when they were both children.
     Thousands of candles can be lit by just one candle,
     and the life of that candle will not be shorter because of it.
     Happiness is never diminished by being shared.
           - Siddhartha Gautama
Samuel is highly analytical by nature, and throughout the book he ponders various quotations from literature, such as the above quote, and definitions of words, such as satori which means “a magical experience...when time seems to stop.” This philosophical thinking coupled with his newfound mindfulness allow him to appreciate ordinary moments as seemingly magical, such as the moon appearing as “a giant, milk-colored fruit” while walking in the city late at night.

I experienced one such moment of blissful satori after reading the final pages of the book. I won’t disclose what happens with the romantic interest, but the climax takes place in an art bookshop where a Frida Kahlo exhibition was displayed, and it included what is thought to be her last painting, which was a still life of watermelons, a work that I had never heard of. I really enjoy the work of Frida Kahlo and find her personal story to be fascinating. My interest in her was recently reignited by an exhibit at the DenverArt Museum (pictured above, blog post to come). Also, few things excite me more than watermelon in the summertime. So I immediately started googling and found an image online of this wonderful painting. A small collection of watermelons in different shades of greens, some mottled, some striped, some whole, some sliced open exposing the cool pink fruit. One slice has text traced into it: “Viva la Vida,” meaning "Long Live Life." There is speculation that Frida painted the melons much earlier and upon her nearing death added the words. She was an artist who almost always incorporated vibrant colors, even though she dealt with far more than her fair share of pain and suffering. These watermelons and inscription seem to reflect her never ending attitude to celebrate life’s simple pleasures, even though they may be fleeting; watermelon season is so brief. It was such a pleasant surprise to finish a book, then get lost in uncovering some tidbits about an artist I adore, and to have yet another reason to savor every sweet crunchy bite of watermelon in the summertime.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Sensory Word of the Week

According to, iridescent is a descriptive word that means "showing luminous colours that seem to change when seen from different angles." cites that the word comes from the Latin roots iris, which means "rainbow," and escent, which means "beginning, becoming, tending to be." Iris was the Greek goddess of the rainbow. As a messenger she climbed the multi-colored arc like a stairway as she took messages from Mount Olympus to the earth (

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Iridescent has a couple escent-ended synonyms. defines pearlescent as "having an iridescent luster resembling that of pearl." Pearls (above left) are small hard lustrous spheres that form inside ocean-dwelling animals like oysters when miniscule irritants enter their shells. Opalescent refers to "having a milky iridescence" or "exhibiting a play of colors like that of the opal." Opal (above right) is a silica compound mineral that, like a pearl, is also cherished as a gem.

Nature not only produces inanimate iridescent beauty, plenty of living species also display dazzling hues: butterflies, dragonflies, beetles, sunbeam snakes, rainbow boa constrictors, humming birds, ducks, starlings, peacocks, beta fish, neon tetra, catfish, clams, sharks, geckos, frogs...even golden moles!

 Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
According to, iridescent coloring is often a defense mechanism—it confuses or warns predators. Studies show that birds have a harder time pecking at bugs that are iridescent. The middle layer of structures in an octopus's skin, known as iridophores, creates iridescent displays; the blue-ringed octopus (above left) flashes 60 iridescent blue rings when it's agitated, signaling poison ( However, defense doesn't explain all animal iridescence. The plumage of Nicobar pigeons (above right) have became brighter and more colorful as the species evolved with few natural predators; they didn't have to hide ( In peacocks, iridescent feathers differentiate males from females. Iridescent scales or skin might also help some cold-blooded species reflect sunlight to regulate their body temperature (

In my journey through sensory words, I am realizing that there is a plethora of beautiful words that end with escence (in the noun form) or escent (in the adjective form), and they are words that describe unique sensory experiences or abilities. The Sensory Word of the Week series of posts will focus on these words over the next few weeks. What are some of your favorite escent words, and what do they describe?

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Senspiration: Resting and Walking, with a Sensory Twist

“Rest is not something that the world gives us. It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.”
This quote was taken from the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. After a particularly busy past two weeks, I decided to reflect on rest and how the senses play into it for this Sunday's Senspiration. In the book Rest Pang explores the benefits of intentional rest, showing the scientific research behind it as well as endless stories of highly successful figures throughout history and the present day who were tuned into what their bodies needed in order to maximize their potential. Being rested allows for creativity, clear thinking, good judgment, and higher levels of productivity. It ultimately allows you to be more aware of what you want, recognizing priorities so that you know which challenges to take on and which to let go, leading to a happy and rewarding life.

Pang discusses sleep as a form of rest in great detail, but I especially appreciated that he explained how people can rest and recharge in ways that don’t involve shut-eye. He discusses the benefits of taking breaks and knowing when to stop for the day. He explores how exercise can increase intelligence, energy, and “psychological resilience,” allowing you to take on challenging and creative work. He also talks about the idea of deep play, which is when you are engaged and entirely consumed, often effortlessly, in an activity that is meaningful to you. For example, Winston Churchill pursued his passion of painting, saying “It is not enough merely to switch off the lights which play upon the main and ordinary field of interest. A new field of interest must be illuminated.” This concept was one of my reasons for starting a blog.

Pang also explores the act of taking walks as a way to rest, and this was my favorite part of the book to read, perhaps because the idea is so simple and easy to do. A change of scenery can give you a new perspective if you’re wrestling with an issue, and it can give you more energy when you’re hitting a wall. Taking a casual walk allows for mind-wandering and makes space for new ideas and insights to bubble up from your subconscious.

Thomas Jefferson suggested to his nephew that he should take walks, saying, “Never think of taking a book with you. The object of walking is to relax the mind [and] divert your attention by the objects surrounding you.” When I walk through my Maplewood neighborhood, there is so much that surrounds me, captures my attention, and awakens my senses. Since I read the book back in May, I’ve gotten into the habit of ditching my music and podcasts and simply observing what’s around me in an effort to unwind.
During morning walks I like noticing the natural elements. I hear birds chirping, and I anticipate the smells of honeysuckle or gardenia as walk by certain houses. Many brightly colored flowers bloom in front yard gardens. The mimosa trees with their feathery pink blooms are a favorite of mine.
And of course I love finding eclectic hidden treasures like a peach tree or a prickly pear cactus growing next to a patch of Black Eyed Susans.


As I walk in the evenings, I notice the rhythmic zinging chorus of cicadas coming from the trees. I love seeing the glowing marquees on storefronts and twinkle lights strung across patios. I peer into the closed-up shop windows and instantly relive memories of how the spices smell inside Penzeys or how the sea salt caramels taste at Kakao. I like seeing the brightly colored scarves hanging inside the Bouffant Daddy window and the sea-inspired hues of bath products inside Maven. As I’m walking, I encounter a number of scents—Schlafly beer being brewed, the burnt smell of coffee roasting at La Cosecha, donuts baking at Strange Donuts.

I’ve heard live Irish folk music as I walked past the small music venue The Focal Point, and the very next evening saw couples ballroom dancing in the same space. When I walk past Sutton Loop Park, sometimes it’s quiet and I hear nothing except the soothing trickle of bubbling water from the small fountain, and at other times, I hear someone playing the piano—a brightly painted piano was placed under the pavilion as part of Make Music Day St. Louis, celebrated on the summer solstice.
I pass people walking their dogs, and I see cats lounging on front porches. I especially like to linger outside the Mauhaus Cat Café and Lounge, a unique spot where you can enjoy a treat and relax among felines who are up for adoption. I love the energy of dogs—excited to be out for an adventure and sniff everything in sight, but I especially appreciate the energy of the cats—once in a while some of them are playful, but for the most part they seem endlessly calm as they simply watch what’s going on around them, not worried about a thing.

Since reading the book, I have been taking more walks around my neighborhood, and I feel good knowing that it’s so beneficial to my well-being. Taking a walk and employing my senses to soak up my surroundings is undoubtedly a restful experience for me. How about you? What types of sensory experiences do you have in your neighborhood? What are some of your favorite ways to unwind?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sensory Word of the Week

According to bombinate is a verb that means "to make a humming or buzzing noise." cites that the word originally comes from the Greek word bombos, which likely denoted "an imitation of a deep, hollow sound (the kind we would likely refer to as "booming" nowadays)." Latin speakers changed the Greek root to bombus, which is the root for a number of English words including "bomb," "bombard," and "bound."

There are quite a few creatures that bombinate—flies, wasps, beetles, humming birds—but when I think of buzzing, I mostly think of bees. Learning the word sparked my curiosity—I wondered why bees buzz. Surely there must be some reason or purpose. Someone recently pointed out to me that animals are like superheroes—they have unique abilities to function in seemingly magical ways that allow them to survive and thrive. Is the buzzing just a result of their wings beating so fast? According to, yes, their wings beating rapidly causes the vibrations that we hear. However, there's another more superpower-like purpose to the bombinating.

Bumblebees, whose genus is actually Bombus, vibrate the middle segment of their body (their thorax) in addition to their wings when they visit flowers. A bumblebee's vibrations shake the pollen from a bloom onto its body. When the bee flies to another flower, some of the pollen rubs off onto the next bloom and voilà, pollination. Bees' ability to bombinate is one of those superpower qualities! (However, not all bee species are capable of buzz-pollination.)

I love noticing flowers and trees when I walk or run. The picture above was taken during a stroll through Forest Park in St. Louis, which has plenty of natural areas, well-maintained gardens, and animals with superpowers—thank you @forestparkforever for your work caring for such a beautiful place.

Each week I share a word that appeals to the senses or describes sensory experiences. If you have a suggestion for a Sensory Word of the Week, please let me know.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday Senspiration: Mad about Mint

Sunday means it's time for a Senspiration! Over the past week I have been particularly excited about mint. Mint is an aromatic herb that grows quickly and spreads easily. It’s full of powerful antioxidants, and there are hundreds of mint varieties. According to, mint has a slew of health benefits including stimulating proper digestion, relieving nausea and headaches, relaxing respiratory channels, clearing up congestion, cleansing and soothing skin, and promoting alertness (among others). 

I didn’t know about all of these benefits before writing this post. However, I have long enjoyed mint because of its multi-sensory appeal. I find both the scent and the taste of mint to be refreshing and relaxing, especially during the heat of summer. And, to me, it’s fascinating how it combines, often in surprising ways, with a variety of other scents and flavors. Each combination is delightfully different from the others. 

So I’ll share with you a few minty senspirations, starting with drinks: 

1. Watermelon-Strawberry-Mint Smoothies (above left) - I was looking for a way to use watermelon that is disappointingly not-so-tasty, or maybe the texture was off. This smoothie is a great solution. Freeze the watermelon, add a few strawberries and some fresh mint leaves, and blend. The watermelon that I didn't want to eat is suddenly delicious.

2. Blackberry Lemon Mint Cocktail Shrub by Heirloom Bottling Co. (above right) - @heirloombottling is a local St. Louis company that makes fine syrup mixers and cocktail shrubs. A shrub is a concentrated syrup made with fruit, vinegar, and sugar. Sometimes spices or herbs are also incorporated. You can use a small amount of the shrub to mix a drink. I like to keep it simple (and bubbly) and use this shrub with sparkling water. The mint is subtle but is definitely present and blends perfectly with the sweetness of blackberries and tartness of lemon and vinegar. Heirloom Bottling Co. sells their shrubs at farmers markets throughout the city and  also at some local shops, including one of my favorite Maplewood spots, Larder & Cupboard.  

3. Iced Green Tea with Lime and Mint (bottom pictures above) - For the ultimate thirst-quenching mint beverage, I brew green tea and refrigerate until cool, then add several mint leaves and squeeze 2-3 fresh limes. Any kind of green tea works, but I especially like Green Tea Tropical by @mightyleaf. I often take a big pitcher of this concoction to pool gatherings. The citrus, green tea, and mint means this drink is packed with antioxidants.

There are also a few bath products I love with some unique mint scent combinations. 

4. Eucalyptus Mint and Grapefruit Mint Soaps by SeedGeeks - @seedgeeks is another St. Louis company that sells at farmers markets. This heirloom seed company makes these all natural vegan soaps by hand. Using the Eucalyptus Mint is a sensory escape that makes me feel like I'm at a spa, and the Grapefruit Mint is an equally pleasant aroma, perfectly light and fruity. 

5. Lemon Mint Sugar Scrub by Apothecare Co. - This scrub is handcrafted by a good friend of mine here in St. Louis. Apothecare Co. is her line of artisan botanical skincare made with active natural ingredients, and it’s specifically formulated for sensitive skin. The lemony minty concoction is a wonderfully appropriate scent for exfoliating – it simply smells very clean in a way that is not at all overpowering. 

6. Coconut + Mint Cooling Mineral Mist  by @littlebarnapothecary – I mentioned this in my coconut post a few weeks ago, but it's worth mentioning again. Coconut and mint may sound like an odd combination, but the blend is light and fresh, and the mist creates such a nice cooling effect.

The unique finds at farmers' markets never end. One day when I was looking for fresh mint to buy, I came across another surprising mint treat at the Tower Grove Farmers' Market.

7. Sorrel Mint Pesto by Stuart James Specialties - Located in New Haven, MO, @SJMicrogreens grows their microgreens organically, and at the market they offer a dozen or so different pestos. In addition to micro sorrel and mint leaves, the ingredient list for this pesto incudes olive oil, parmesan, cashews, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. Eaten on warm fresh bread, this pesto is a flavor explosion with a delicious hint of mint.

I also revel in the color, especially in summer time. I often have minty nail polish colors and accessories. 

8. Thanks a Windmillion by OPI - This darker shade of mint brightens my toes!

And of course, there’s the classic combination of mint and chocolate. 

9. Dove Mint & Dark Chocolate Swirl - There are plenty of great options, but this is my favorite. Not only is it creamy in texture and quite tasty, the chocolate itself has a beautiful swirled pattern, and you get the fun little bonus of a Dove Promise.

Do you have any mint products you'd recommend? What scents and tastes are you in the mood for this summer?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Corpse Flower in Bloom

Earlier this week I visited the Missouri Botanical Gardens for a  rare sensory experience. A corpse flower named Octavia bloomed! The corpse flower gets its name from the intense rotting scent it releases upon blooming. 
The Amorphophallus titanium is a fast-growing plant, but it blooms infrequently, under very specific conditions. A volunteer at the Garden shared that this was the first time Octavia had bloomed in her 12-year life. In the wild, they grow only in the rain forests of Sumatra, Indonesia.
In addition to their odor being so unique, the size is also extraordinary. A tall pale yellow spike stretches up to six feet tall. This spike is actually full of tiny, crowded flowers. A leaf, much like one giant fan, opens to reveal a deep crimson red color, up to three feet wide in diameter.
I visited about 24 hours after the peak blooming. The smell was present but had subsided, and the fan-like leaf was closing. Below are images of early and peak stages of bloom. For something named 'corpse,' this flower is undeniably full of life.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons 
Few corpse flowers exist in cultivation, but the Missouri Botanical Garden has eight specimens, and there have been eight flowerings in the past five years. I am looking forward to the next opportunity to experience this unusual bloom.

*Information in this post was gleaned from I highly recommend visiting the website to see more images and a time lapse video of their first corpse flower blooming in 2012.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Sensory Word of the Week

According to a phosphene is "a luminous impression produced through excitation of the retina by some cause other than the impingement upon it of rays of light, as by pressure upon the eyeball when the lids are close." In simpler terms, defines phosphenes as "the light and colours produced by rubbing your eyes." It's the experience of seeing light even though your eyes are closed and no light is coming in. You might see squiggly lines, orbs, or other patterns in all different colors. The word comes from the Greek roots phōs, meaning "light," and phainein, meaning "to show" (

According to, all kinds of everyday action will bring on the phosphenes such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, blowing your nose, or standing up suddenly. However, the light show also appears on a less intense level when we simply close our eyes. Some research shared on shows that this light might be produced inside our eyes—cells in our eyes produce light particles, in a way that's similar to fireflies or some species of deep-sea anemones and jellyfish. The natural functioning of the human body never ceases to amaze me!

A note about the photo: Since it's not possible to capture phosphenes with a camera, I used a photo I shot of sunrise over the clouds from the top of Mount Haleakala in Maui. With that kind of direct sunlight, the camera produced beautiful orbs that seemed to perfectly illustrate this shut-eye phenomenon.

Each week the blog will feature a Sensory Word of the Week, a word that appeals to the senses or somehow describes sensory experiences. If you have a suggestion for a word that would be interesting to share, please let me know.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

More Octopus Soul

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Last week I posted about the book The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. It was such a beautiful book that appealed to my senses and filled me up with knowledge. I'm so excited that I can't help but share more of what I learned about these oozy, intelligent, and curious creatures.

-          Octopuses play so much that people have invented toys or puzzles for them. If they aren’t entertained and mentally stimulated, they tend to cause trouble. 
-          They are individuals with their own unique personalities. In aquariums, they are known to spray water at caregivers on purpose when they are displeased or simply do not care for the person. They also blast water to play.  
-          They eat by grabbing food with a tentacle and passing it from sucker to sucker like a conveyer belt. They don’t bend their tentacles to place fish directly into their mouths. It might be because they are savoring the taste of their food along each sucker. 

-          While most animals that are capable of camouflage (for example, chameleons) have less than a dozen fixed patterns, octopuses command 30 to 50 different color patterns, and in less than a full second they change color, pattern, and texture.
-          Their eyes are color-blind. New studies are showing that octopuses might be able to see with their skin, which might explain how they know to change colors for camouflage. 
-          60% of octopuses’ neurons are in their arms, instead of their brains. According to Montgomery, this means that “if an arm is severed from an octopus’s body, the arm will often carry on as if nothing has happened for several hours.”
-          When baby octopuses hatch out of their eggs, the mother blows them away, and they become plankton, floating among millions of other tiny animals and plants, until they grow big enough to live on the ocean floor. Only 2 in 100,000 babies survive to sexual maturity.
-          Octopuses smell like geraniums when they experience stress.
-          Octopuses are predators that actively hunt, and they’ll eat many different kinds of prey. Eating different animals means using a variety of different hunting techniques. Octopuses can camouflage themselves to hide from prey and then ambush. They can also shoot through the ocean, conducting quick chases. If prey are leaving the water, they can use their arms and suckers to crawl out and catch them. Conversely, octopuses are preyed on by many other animals, and they similarly have several defense mechanisms. They can release ink that instantly creates a cloud in the water to divert predators. They can swim away quickly. They can camouflage to hide or change patterns and colors quickly to cause predators to lose track of them. They also build shelters. Having this vast toolbox implies that octopuses can reason and anticipate the actions of other animals.

In her book Sy Montgomery offered insight into many animals other than octopuses, and their abilities were also quite fascinating from a sensory perspective:

-          Electric eels dream.
-          Sea stars extrude their stomachs outside their mouths to digest prey, so it appears that fish simply dissolve or melt.
-          Anacondas in captivity are known to cuddle with their caretakers whom they like and trust.
-          Dolphins have been observed getting intoxicated as a group– they pass around a toxic puffer fish and behave differently, as if they are in a trance.
-          Mama birds and their chicks chirp to each other when the babies are still in their eggs.

Sy Montgomery has published books about several other animals she has studied, and I'm looking forward to reading another soon. In the meantime, I'm on an octopus scavenger hunt. Another creative rendition came across my path. This shimmery blue mustached octopus sits on top of an umbrella displayed in downtown Maplewood to promote this Friday's Let Them Eat Art event.

Umbrella design by Seafoam Media

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Sunday Senspiration: Moongazing

We see a full moon every 29.5 days when the sun, the earth, and the moon all move into a straight line with the earth in the middle. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, July's full moon is know as the Thunder Moon thanks to the storms that tend to pop up, and it's also known as the Full Buck Moon because male deer's antlers are full-grown this time of year. The almanac makes several recommendations for the best days of the month, considering the moon's cycle, for tasks like cutting hay and fishing.

Full moons bring an energy that affects all living things on our big blue planet. The gravitational pull from the moon is strongest when the moon is full, and thus ocean tides are at their highest during full moons. You can look up countless statistics and stories about emergency rooms being busier and animal behavior changes—underwater corals synchronize the release of their sperm and eggs, doodlebugs dig larger holes to catch prey, and lions hunt during the day more often (

I've always loved looking up to the sky and seeing a full moon, and I'm realizing in my recent endeavors to seek out and take notice of sensory-filled moments, that gazing at the moon is a rich sensory experience, an opportunity to take in my surroundings and feel the energy. I have several memories of being in special places during full moons—at the beach hearing waves lapping and feeling warm sand and breezes, in the middle of the woods in February when the earth is quiet and vegetation is sparse, or just last month, I was in Keystone, CO, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and a bright sky exploding with stars that seemed closer than usual. It's great to take in the full moon when you're in a special place, but the full moon has a way of making our ordinary everyday surroundings extraordinary. I think I enjoy sitting on the front porch glancing at the full moon listening to locusts buzz just as much as any out-of-town moongazing.

For last night's full moon, I took a group of friends to the top of the Compton Hill Water Tower, a 179-foot brick structure that encloses a standpipe that was used in the city of St. Louis's water system from the late 1800s to 1929. We climbed the 198 steps of the metal spiral staircase, breathing in the mustiness of a 119-year-old building, hearing the clunking of footsteps above and below us. At the top, we peered out through open windows in all directions, taking in the bright moon and the twinkling lights of the city all around us. Even though it was hot and stuffy on a 90-degree night in a tower with no air-conditioning, it was an energizing experience that is uniquely St. Louis. If you are in the area, I highly recommend you go to the Compton Hill Water Tower on a full moon night.

What are some sensory-filled moongazing experiences you've had?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Octopus Fever

Sometimes when you’re enthralled with something and thinking about it often, it tends to pop up everywhere. It seems magical, and it’s happening with octopuses for me right now. Since reading Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus over the past few weeks (which was featured in the blog yesterday), I’ve come across four creative octopus images in my daily routines!

I bought this Pacific Octopus Shoreline print by @Jill_Bliss at an art fair in Portland, OR, in 2012. I didn’t have a place to hang it at the moment, so it went into storage and sadly, was forgotten. Until the other day! I saw it in the closet when I was digging for cleaning supplies. It’s beautiful—full of vibrant colors and delicate sea life patterns, printed with vegetable ink on recycled paper. Jill Bliss is a Pacific Northwest artist who has a plethora of artwork depicting the nature, animals, and habitats of the area. I’m working on finding the perfect place to hang this gem.

About a week ago, I noticed a magazine in the break room at work. On the cover it had a watermelon fruit salad that was carved into a smiling octopus. Watermelon is my favorite food, so I was very excited to see this fruity creature combination. While I know octopuses don’t eat watermelon, I wonder how they might think it tastes if they had several arms full of it (they taste all over their skin)!

On an evening walk through my neighborhood, I noticed an octopus t-shirt in a storefront. Maven Bath & Candle Co. is a beautiful little shop in downtown Maplewood, MO, that’s full of soaps, candles, and other bath products—it’s a sensory wonderland where you can breathe in the scents of the artisan goods and look around at the eclectic sea-inspired décor. I’ll probably be walking by @MavenStL during open hours to buy an octopus shirt for myself soon.

During another walk, I noticed that several of the Maplewood businesses were displaying umbrellas painted by local artists to promote Let ThemEat Art, an annual event that celebrates Bastille Day with art-making demonstrations, live music, food, and drinks (coming up on 7/14). An umbrella with an octopus was my favorite, of course. I looked down at the label and was thrilled to discover it was created by local artist @ArleanaHoltzmann, whom I recently met! The bold swirling rainbow pattern might not be entirely realistic, but in a way it pays homage to the vast color and pattern combinations that an octopus commands. When it’s pouring rain, what better time to think of an animal who spends most of life under the sea.

I'm really hoping the octopuses keep magically appearing in my life. If you come across any artistic renderings, let me know, but what I'm really hoping for is an opportunity to see and touch a REAL one!


Friday, July 7, 2017

The Soul of an Octopus

About a month ago, I had breakfast at the highly recommended Butterhorn in Frisco, CO, and afterward wandered across the street to Next Page Books & Nosh. Within a few minutes, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery caught my eye. I never knew much about octopuses, and within the first six pages of this book, I learned several things that amazed me:
-          Octopuses have a lot of defense mechanisms: ink “like an old-fashioned pen,” neurotoxic venom, saliva that will eat away flesh, and hundreds of powerful, dexterous suckers that give the animals iron grips. 
-          They have beaks.
-          The Pacific octopus hatches from a grain-of-rice-sized egg, and it’s one of the fastest-growing animals on Earth, reaching the length and weight of a man in only three years. 
-          Since they don’t have bones, full-size octopuses can pour their bodies through an orange-sized opening or something even smaller.
-          They change color and texture constantly—for example, when they’re excited, they’re bumpy and red, and when they relax, they turn smooth and white. 
-          They can taste with their skin, anywhere on their body. (Imagine what this sensation might be like!) Their sense of taste is strongest in their suckers.
-          Each octopus has a dominant eye, meaning that one eye pivots in its socket to focus on something. Each eye swivels independently. 
-          When you detach from an octopus’s grip, the suckers make plunging, popping sounds, just like I thought they would! 
-          They are enormously playful, curious, and expressive. 

In the first chapter, Sy Montgomery fondly reflects on her multi-sensory interaction with Athena, the first octopus she met in captivity, and says “To borrow a phrase from songwriter John Denver, she filled up my senses.” Simply reading this book filled up my senses; I was entranced in a multi-sensory world as I turned every page. Montgomery’s writing was beautifully descriptive and thought-provoking.

Montgomery shares her stories of visiting the New England Aquarium regularly as an official “Octopus Observer.” As she forms relationships with a few different octopuses at the aquarium, she experiences “Octopus Time,” or a lack of time perception caused by a state of awe, focus, and joy. She is humbled by their existence. Their bodies and their daily functioning are so drastically different than what we as humans are normally conscious of. As she observes and wonders about how octopuses think in unique ways that are impossible for us to even wrap our minds around, she shifts her perspective of the world and is inspired to explore it further. To do so, she takes up scuba diving so that she can see octopuses in the wild.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Montgomery describes in wonderful detail the vivid colors, exotic shapes, and serene sensations of her underwater adventures around the world. As I was reading, I kept hearing Ringo Starr’s playful lyrics in my head: “I'd like to be under the sea, in an octopus's garden in the shade.” While I don’t think Montgomery ever referenced that song in her book, her words mirrored another Beatles song as she described following an octopus along the ocean floor as “a magical mystery tour, on which our guide changes shape and turns psychedelic colors.”  

Late in the book I especially enjoyed contemplating the idea of “soul” alongside Montgomery. She shares that according to some, “soul is our innermost being, the thing that gives us our senses, our intelligence, our emotions, our desires, our will, our personality, and identity.” She expresses that the octopuses she knew changed her life forever, gifting her with “a deeper understanding of what it means to think, to feel, and to know.” She clearly believes that octopuses have a great deal of “soul,” and she has me convinced.

I am often drawn to books that have sensory appeal, and I’m excited to share them on this blog. If you have any suggestions for books that would send me on a sensory-filled journey, please let me know!

If your curiosity is sparked, I'll be sharing more sensory-filled facts about these fascinating ocean-dwellers on the blog soon...