Exploration of a particular community always starts with impressions that one gains through the five senses. The first things a person can learn about a community are the way the neighborhood where the community lives looks like, sounds like, and smells like. Additionally, one can get to learn what a community tastes like by having the food in its neighborhood and to explore the community by touch through the abundance of materials, surfaces, and textures in the neighborhood. Such exploration will provide an observer with meaningful impressions that will lay the foundation for everything that the observer will eventually know about the community.
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I had never been to the Mount Baker station before, so my “organoleptic” exploration was my first encounter with the neighborhood. I had pictured the place around the light rail station as a quiet one with many senior people inhabiting it. But when I looked up the pictures on the Internet, I was very surprised at the modernistic design of the neighborhood. I think the Mount Baker area has transformed rapidly from a car-oriented environment (Rainer Avenue is a busy multi-lane thoroughfare) into an “urban village,” whose residents choose walking or biking over cars. I believe the present-day look, prospects, and diversity of the neighborhood are capable of attracting creative people and organizations that will make it even livelier. Now, however, now the area is still centered on the traffic. Along Rainer Avenue, there are Lowe’s, Rite Aid, and QFC, i.e. what one usually finds on the sides of thoroughfares. I would say it is not a pedestrian-friendly environment so far, but there is an initiative to fix the situation. After the new station will go through the transit-friendly development, it will possibly make the area more convenient for pedestrians.
I think that the first organoleptic impression that one faces when coming to the Mount Baker neighborhood is the traffic noise. Rainer Avenue is a busy road; there are cars there all the time. They speed along it in a never-ceasing flow and honk sometimes. Once in a while, airplanes fly over, and the laundry behind the station is making a constant noise. I think it is safe to say that the Mount Baker neighborhood is not a quiet place. However, not all the sounds are industrial or machine-made. I saw a lot of birds around the area, and they make a lot of sounds. I even saw fights between crows and mews for breadcrumbs, which is a loud action. Right in front of the light rail station, there is a building with many commercial spaces to rent. According to the sign, there is an education program offered. Behind the fence, in the building’s yard, there are children playing with balls and toy bricks. I noticed one adult who seemed to be in charge of the playground. Children were running about, screaming, and laughing, cheering up the space around the station. Finally, people’s talking is a significant part of what one can hear in the neighborhood. When walking around, I could hear many people speak many different languages and laugh.
From seeing, humans receive the largest amounts of information compared to other senses. As a person who tends to memorize those things I see better than those that I hear, I believe that visual perception is particularly important for me. The first thing that I saw when leaving the station was a coffee shop in front of it. The colors and the lighting make it look cozy. There are several people in it: working with laptops, talking to friends, sitting alone. Then, I see an art gallery, a dance studio, a lot of stores and pharmacies. There are bright, colorful signboards indicating that many people interact in various ways around here. I saw several buses which I think are a convenient transport for the community.
There is also a school: Franklin High School. I noticed a variety and diversity of people one can see through the neighborhood and a wide range of ages: children, teenagers, younger and older adults. Children ride bikes. People are dressed casually. I noticed a group of young Muslim women wearing traditional Islamic clothes walking down the street. There is a visible natural boundary of the neighborhood: a kind of a grove begins behind the station, indicating where the border of the area is. Concerning the buildings, I would say they look rather simple, old, and poor, which is why the community does not look like a high-income one. The dominant colors in the streets are gray and brown. Despite that, I would have to say that the neighborhood looks rather pretty. There are many trees on both sides of the road, and red leaves are all over the sidewalks and the ground.
I think the dominant smell in the neighborhood, especially around its main artery, Rainer Avenue, is the smell of exhaust smoke. However, it is not the only smell here. The area smells like many urban areas smell in fall: somewhat smoky and a little bit damp. The air smells like cold ground and fallen leaves. Somewhere around the station, rather appalling scents can be found, too. Near cafés and restaurants, there are delicious smells of diverse foods.
An observer has a lot of opportunities to experience the taste of the Mount Baker community by visiting one of its many food places. For example, there are Starbucks and QFC. However, these brands can be found in hundreds of places around the country and the world, and the food and drinks in them taste rather the same everywhere. I believe that, if one wants to know the specific taste of Mount Baker, he or she should get some street food. Street food vendors always make something that is more authentic to the area or the community where they operate. In fact, there are many fast food places around the rail station. I think “tasting” Mount Baker should also involve the neighborhood’s Vietnamese restaurant, pho restaurant, and a small Chinese supermarket. They provide food that is more original than that in the restaurant chains and show the diversity of the neighborhood’s taste.
I think the most challenging task was to touch Mount Baker. However, if I needed to compare my impression of the neighborhood to tactile sensations, I would have to say that Mount Baker is slightly rough. It is not smooth or gentle, but it is not very coarse. It feels like the walls of its old buildings, like the brick and stone arches of the station. Also, the neighborhood feels cold, like the metallic fences and the chandeliers hanging from the station’s ceiling. Another haptic sensation I had was that the neighborhood was fast: everyone and everything was moving around at high speed. People did not talk to me or pay much attention to me. At the bus station, some of them who were waiting for a bus looked at me as I was taking notes, but without much interest. As I was walking around the area, I realized that there was one more feeling related to the sense of touch that kept following me. I felt like the neighborhood was sheltered and gave the sensation of being in a closed space. I think the feeling is due to the large number of tall trees and various wires overhead. The branches and wires create an illusion of a roof or a cover, which makes one feel like the open space around him or her is shrinking.
To sum up, the Mount Baker neighborhood looks pretty and cozy, sounds like cars driving on a road and people talking, smells like exhaust smoke and food, tastes like fast food, and feels closed, cold, and slightly rough. Exploring a certain area through the five senses is an exciting experience. Anywhere I go, obviously, I always see things, hear sounds, and feel different scents. But all this happens by itself, and I do not give it much thinking. However, when I went to the station with the intention to analyze my perception and answer the questions, “What does the community look/sound/smell/taste/feel like?” it was very different. I realized how much associations pop up in my mind when I see a certain color or smell something familiar. This experience of observing and describing helped me understand how much my perception depends on sensations that I do not usually analyze.