Living in the city, I find it necessary to venture off into the woods every once in a while. I pick a state park or forest that I can wander around in for a while, and I drive up for a day. I open every one of my senses to the trees and the land surrounding me, and pay attention to insects, frog songs, and the expansive sky above me. These are familiar sensations: the crunch of leaves beneath boots, the smell of pine, the beauty of a field of wildflowers. If you’ve spent time in woods and meadows, it’s easy to close your eyes and place yourself back there. It seems like you can almost touch the rough bark of a big oak tree or hear a rushing stream. For me, whether I’m experiencing it in my mind or in real life, this brings about a great sense of peace and love for the earth.
As I learn more and more about the Amazon Rainforest, I realize that while I know many facts about it and many of the issues that surround it, I cannot imagine the many ways in which my senses would be activated if I were actually there. I know that the environment is very different than the mountains, woods, and fields with which I am familiar, but what kinds of sounds, sights and smells might one experience deep in the Amazon?
Let’s do a little research and travel to the understory of a mature rainforest!
First of all, the Amazon is a very humid, wet place. It might be 80 or 90º F, but with the high humidity, you’d feel like it was much hotter. Some parts of the rainforest experience constant rain during the rainy season from December to March. Even during the “dry” season, it still usually rains at least once a day. With the dense canopy above, you might not feel much direct rain, but water filters its way down, dripping off leaves and making its way to the ground. And if you’re in part of the forest with lighter vegetation, you might feel the full force of a rainforest storm!
You’d be struck by the thick, pungent smell of vegetation that fills the air. Flowers, decaying vegetation, soil, wood, and leaves all produce scents that come together to create something like the smells you might have experienced in a greenhouse full of lots of different kinds of plants . The strong smells of flowers attract pollinators like bats, moths, and other insects .
The rainforest is teeming with animals and insects, so you would hear a concert of humming, thrumming, buzzing and chirping. Frogs, cicadas, howler monkeys, and birds make some of the loudest rainforest sounds. Some of these have cries that reach up to 130 decibels, which is louder than a military jet!  You might not see many of these creatures, though, since they hide in the thick foliage and high up in the canopy.
If you’ve spent much time in a temperate forest off trails, you know it can be difficult to get around. Fallen trees, brambles, rocks, and dead leaves make the ground hard to travel through. In the Amazon, it’s nearly impossible in many places without a road or path. Even in the understory where very little light can penetrate all the way down through the canopy to the forest floor, there is high diversity of ferns, small flowering plants, and insects. You’d see many plants that you never knew existed-- the Amazon has an amazing concentration of plants (and animals!) found nowhere else in the world. You might also see some plants you recognize from your own home: philodendrons, ferns, and zebra plants all prefer warm, low-light conditions so they make great houseplants! In some areas where the canopy isn’t as dense, though, bright, hot sunlight reaches down to the forest floor and you’d see the dappling and pooling of light on the ground.
Often it’s easier to traverse the Amazon Rainforest by boat rather than by foot on the wide, rushing rivers that thread through the forest. You’d have to be prepared for rain though, because there’s no protection from the canopy of trees in the wide open river!
Of course, it’s impossible to really imagine what it’s like in the rainforest without actually visiting. But reading about it and trying to connect it to real experiences can make it feel less like an abstract place. It’s much easier to care about a place that you’ve been before, whether in real life or in your imagination.
Even for those of us that can’t wander into the rainforest anytime soon, amazing new technology allows us to approximate the experience of being there-- at least through sights and sounds. Google street view recently went into a dense area of jungle in Brazil, at the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve; you can explore that here.
For a real account of a day in the rainforest by a researcher, click here.
 Butler, Rhett. “Visiting the Amazon Rainforest.” Mongabay.com, 2014. http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/visiting-the-amazon-rainforest.html
 “Flora,” Save the Amazon Rainforest.org, 2015. http://www.amazon-rainforest.org/flora.html
 “Loud sounds of the Amazon Jungle,” Jungle Blog, Rainforest Cruises, 2016. http://www.rainforestcruises.com/jungle-blog/loud-sounds-of-the-amazon-jungle
“Tropical rainforest understory layer facts,” Tropical Rainforest Facts, n.d. http://www.tropical-rainforest-facts.com/Tropical-Rainforest-Layer-Facts/Tropical-Rainforest-Understory-Layer-Facts.shtml
Privitera, Lisa. “The understory layer,” St. John Fisher College, 2009.