From the first novel I read as a boy, I knew I wanted to write stories. I also knew I wanted to use details that would make the stories authentic.
So I set about the business of learning to observe my surroundings, to really “see” and “feel” the world. I would sometimes take a note book down to the the slough in below the house, sit on the grassy bank, and record all the sounds I could hear. (I had much better hearing in those days.) I’d list croaking frogs, rustling leaves, bird song, the rumble of jet planes, a tractor plowing in the next field, a cooing dove, the beat of a Mallard’s wings coming down the slough, the splash of a turtle sliding off a floating log, a woodpecker hammering a tree trunk…whatever I could hear.
When I decided the store of sounds was exhausted, I’d start a list of odors…the smell of crushed grass, the earthy smell of the slough, the perfume of wild lilacs, the dry summer smell of mossy oaks, the smell of damp earth turned by the neighbor’s plow.
And then on to things I could feel…like a cool evening breeze, the burn of stinging nettles. (I didn’t learn about stinging nettles until it was too late to escape the misery. I was “up” on poison oak, however.)
The hardest to describe were things seen. That list was always long and a bit prosaic. Oak trees, brown slough water, white clouds, wood ducks, slender stalks of grass, dark green Oregon Grape, sagging wire fences, leaning gates, the plank and beam bridge, red poison oak, the faint track of an old road to the field beyond the belt of timber along the slough…that kind of thing.
As for taste, I spent much less time. Unless it was a snack I had with me, I left the list of tastes to others. Although, I will say I can “taste” wood smoke if it’s thick enough.
As for the improvement these times of observation gave to my writing, I’ll leave to the judgement of others. I will assert, however, the habit of observing and describing the world has added greatly to my enjoyment of life.