scent memory

How can it be that one little smell, one momentary fleeting whiff of something can transport a person from the present moment to a completely different time and place? A flicker of remembrance. A scent memory…IMG_7409It happened to me just this morning when I was scrambling for a pair of relatively clean pants to put on. I grabbed the pair that had found their way to the floor behind my bedroom door and gave them a big inhale. Whew. I was instantly back in the garden harvesting garlic. The aroma of sweat and dirt mingling with the drips of garlic sap that fell as I clipped bulbs from stalks had saturated those khakis. I didn’t put them on, much as I love the smell of garlic. They were just a little too ripe and I feared offending the cows I was heading out the door to visit. IMG_7413This particular scent memory was very distinct and relatively fresh in my mind as we had just harvested the garlic last week, (I really don’t make a habit of shoving dirty pants behind my bedroom door, I promise!) but I was reminded of all of the years I’ve been harvesting garlic; always near the summer solstice, always hot, always dirty, always commanded by the smell of garlic.IMG_7412Sometimes, though… sometimes out of the blue a subtle indescribable smell will make you reel in the flood of memory. Just a whiff. Just for a second. Like in the cooler autumn months when my boy comes in from being on one of his forays in the woods. I give him a hug and instantly I remember my own childhood and the exact same smell that my father would bring in with him after hunting quail. I can’t describe it other than cold, crisp air caught in the fibers of clothing. But there’s a particular pleasant sourness, too. Impossible to bring to words yet so strong and exact that the memory comes without being beckoned.IMG_7408Yesterday, when I was taking my kids to the library to hear Coree read some children’s books (and returning Lulah after a raucous sleepover here!) the foyer of the library nudged my scent memory in the direction of my grandparents house from long ago. Another one of those transportive indescribable smells. A snapshot of a smell. For a moment, I wasn’t walking into a library; I was walking down the hall of my grandparent’s house. My cousins live in that house now. I sometimes wonder if I were to go there again, if those same scents would be available for the smelling, hiding in nooks and crannies? Or are they now only a scent memory, to be found in random places like library foyers? IMG_7411We all have particular scent triggers that never fail to transport. The hybrid blend of Lysol and Listerine will forever bring me back to my other grandmother’s bathroom. And I can scarcely go into a local feed store without temporarily finding myself in the warehouse of my family’s feed and seed store up in Indiana. And for me, the smell of almond extract does not make me see cookies. That smell will forever take me into the moist forest of the farm, where with wonder, I first encountered the black and yellow striped “almond bug” all those years ago. IMG_7417As I grow older, the more scent memories I have in my internal library. Whether I am aware of them or not, they are there quietly waiting for the precise moment to jump out at me and say “boo!”.  As I live more of my life on this farm, undoubtedly the more scents that surround me each day will define my memories. Just as nowadays, an early spring walk in the pasture can’t happen without also noticing the blooming sweet vernal grass. Those two things will forever walk hand in hand for me. There’s no separating them now. Or when the smell of quickly evaporating dew on a summer morning carries with it the recognition that we are in for a sultry day. Scent directs thinking and has the capacity to define a very specific time and place, just as acutely as a photo can capture the mood of a moment.  I welcome that connection to this place. I welcome the mingling of scent and memory. So take a deep breath, friends… Smell what you smell and let yourself get carried away!IMG_7410


6 thoughts on “scent memory

  1. I know just what you mean Cher. The most recent for me is the honeygold scent of elderflowers taking me back about thirty years to white horse hill in England. Oh the sweetness of that memory! Beautiful pics by the way!

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