Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Just a Mere Whiff.

Everyone has smelled the good-earth smell after a rain, but for some reason, smells of other kinds are making memories explode inside my head in the past summer.

Early in the summer, when the weather was getting hotter, I would come back from my run and enter the woods where our house stands. The humid, leafy, musky odor of the woods could make me stop and lift my nose and breathe in deeply like a wolf. I thought of my days wandering the woods as a child at summer camp, sweating and discovering...and being fascinated with a child's horror at bugs and beasties I'd never seen before. It is the smell of discovery, is the woods.

This morning I went out for a bicycle ride instead of a run (I hurt a tendon somehow and am resting it) and caught the smell of a brackish pond laden with lily pads and cattails. Most people would find that smell objectionable, but it took me right back to my teenage field-wandering dreamdays, when I would walk for hours, examining plants, bugs, weather and silence. I had a few special spots that no one knew of but myself, where I would crouch down for hours and watch things happen around me. The smell of a still pond is to me the scent of peaceful solitude, the kind in which a storm might arise but mean me no harm...

There is an alfalfa field about a half mile away. So far the farmer has gotten three harvests of good, rich hay off it, and he just mowed it down again to dry in the pre-autumn cooling sunshine. It smells different from regular hay...it almost smells more nutritious, like the smell of soup and bread instead of only bread, which is pleasant enough. Long ago I helped a friend bring in such a harvest. It was all-day hard work, loading the bales onto the wagon and off-loading them into the barn. We sweated liberally, and bits of hay got everywhere and stuck fast to our skin. Afterwards we fell into her pool, an above-ground affair, the bits giving up and floating to the surface, our skin drinking in the coolness and shedding heat into the water. It was wonderful, and afterwards I slept like the earth. To this day, the scent of alfalfa hay brings back to the vision of fat, content horses, honking geese, and a feeling of readiness for cold weather.

Scent is like a library to an aging person. There are so many yet to experience, yet so many to return to like old friends. And when one least expects it, they are found again, and can be savored and enjoyed. Hopefully, we can pass on the appreciation of them to the young so as to add to their fond memories.


Anonymous Heidi said...

This is beautiful, Eleanor!

It is amazing how aroma and memory are so closely attached to each other. A whiff of White Shoulders perfume...gramma! and open a jar of Gold's Medicated Powder, to transport me to Aunt Irene's house.


8:33 PM  
Blogger The Clinging Vine said...

Did you know scent played a key role in one of Agatha Christie's murder mysteries? It's the one where Poirot is hired to solve a murder from 20-odd years before.

It is amazing how certain smells immediately trigger memories. ;^)

9:58 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Excellent description- it brought back memories for me, too!

I remember coming back east to visit Tad from Phoenix. He lived north of Columbus in the small town of Hamilton. As we drove to his house, I was overwhelmed by the smell of Georgia pines and the color of green. I never really realized how odorless the desert really could be.

Thank you for an interesting and introspective read.

1:28 PM  
Blogger craigellachie said...


Pines, eh? Well, here's a pine-scent story for you: when I smell pines, I think of outhouses. In fact, I almost can't smell a pine without mentally attaching the smell of outhouses. This comes from those camping trips in Maine. I love the smell of pine, mind you-- but I smile becuase of the outhouses.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Aunt Cin said...

Lilacs. Lilacs and outhouses go together for me. At our old family cabin, we had a two-seater which was surrounded on three sides by huge, abundant lilac bushes. And this house, when we bought it, had another two-seater, with more lilacs.

We still have the lilacs.

Lovely post!


PS Hi, to E's brother. :)

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so tell me...what IS the purpose of a two-seater???

Does one need....



11:58 PM  
Blogger Aunt Cin said...

Maybe it's the outhouse equivalent of bundling?



1:39 PM  

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