Saturday, January 22, 2011


Walking in the woods the other day, I was reminded of a smell I like that many people find distasteful; makes them roll their eyes, shake their heads, purse their lips disapprovingly. That remini-scents (ha!) spawned some mental list making.

Smells that tap deeply into my subconscious:

  • A couple of snowmobiles driving by while I'm walking in the wintry woods. I admit it, I like the smell of two-stroke engines--in small doses. I like how the smell lingers even after the mysteriously shrouded, unidentifiable riders shriek off into the distance.

  • Freshly cut 2x4s, sheet rock, drywall compound, the humid, vinegar-y smell of removing layer upon layer of old wallpaper. These are the smells of my childhood living in fixer-uppers.

  • Chainsaws and sawdust. This obviously goes along with the two-stroke engine thing and combines it with the freshly cut wood thing. I've had patients in for hearing tests who smell like chainsaws and sawdust, as if they've just come from the middle of the woods directly to my audio test booth. They usually wear plaid or wool or both. I know they can't smell it on themselves anymore, like farmers and cow-smell or Grandmas and old-lady perfume.

  • The fishing vest/PFD my Dad had when I was a little kid. Sometimes I can almost conjure up an olfactory memory of this. You'd think it would smell like fish, but it didn't. It smelled like something you might pull out of an old first-aid kit--like fabric bandages and Mercurochrome. It smelled like my Dad during summer weekends, safety, protection.

  • Warm, blanched peaches slipped of their skins floating in a dishpan of vinegar solution. The sweet smell of summer peaches wafting about with the astringent smell of vinegar takes me right back to when I'd help my mom get the fruit ready for canning --the slippery warmth of the fruit, the satisfying way the skins would pop off and how easily my mom would section the flesh from the pit and slide them into the dishpan.

  • The smell of hours spent outdoors sticking to a person or a pet after coming back inside. It lasts for only a few moments before the indoors pollutes it back to nothing. But if you pay attention you can smell it. Each season has a slightly different kind of smell, with Fall and Winter being the most noticeable and satisfying.

  • Barn smells: hay, straw, silage, grain, minerals & vitamins added to feed, manure, warm-bodied, caramel-colored Jersey's, the clean, milky, stainless-steel smell of the milk house.

What smells can you dig up from your memory?

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