An Olfactory Journey

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“The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I’m not a practitioner of the ancient art of aromatherapy for medicinal purposes but I do know how effectively smells can transport me than any other mode of travel.  One whiff of a familiar scent can instantly take me back years to another decade and place, almost in time traveling mode.  I am so suspended in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, tastes, feels everything as it was before.

The most vivid are kitchen smells, to be sure.  Cinnamon takes me back to my Grandma’s farm house, roasting turkey to my mother’s early morning labors on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread to the years I needed to knead as tactile therapy during medical school training.

Today it is the smell of oatmeal on the stove that reminds me of those frosty winter mornings rushing to get out the door in time to catch the bus for the long ride to school.

It’s not just food smells.  When I have the privilege of babysitting infants, I drink in their smell of baby shampoo and powder, so like the soft velvety smell of my own children a quarter century ago.   Out in the barn, the newly born wet fur of my foals carries the sweet and sour amnion that was part of every birth I’ve been part of: delivering others and delivering my own.  My heart races at the memory of the drama of those first breaths.

My garden yields its own treasures: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, lemon blossom take me back to lazy breezes past blossoms planted along the house, wafting through open bedroom windows.  The fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain– petrichor — reminds me of dusty dry summers crying for relief.

I doubt any aromatherapy kit would include my most favorite–the farm smells: newly mown hay, fresh fir shavings for stall bedding,  the mustiness of the manure pile, the green sweetness of a horses’ breath.

Someday I’ll figure out how to bottle all these up to keep on hand forever.   Years from now my rambles will be over, when I’m too feeble to walk to the barn or be part of the hay harvest crew any longer,  I can sit by my fireplace with a purring contented cat, listening to the soft rolling twitter of my sleepy canary, then close my eyes, open this bottle of memories and take a whiff now and then.

What a journey I will take, back to a day like today, a day that speaks to me with no uncertain voice.

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One thought on “An Olfactory Journey

  1. More memories…. The olfactory ones are sometimes the most evocative. They nudge a certain location in our brain. I remember my grandma’s four loaves of bread baking in the oven (twice a week) , and my waiting until they were freed from their hot inner chamber in all their hot crustiness so that I could immediately carve a huge thick slice and butter it right away. She never got upset at how I mangled the loaf. Oh, the understanding patience and compassion of that loving women who was the linchpin of my existence….I miss her every day of my life.

    Another great memory is coming home from school in the afternoon and the piquant aroma of chili sauce emanating from neighbors’ simmering stoves. And the earthy pungent smell of our Christmas tree and decorating branches after they had been brought into our warm living room, filling our home with an air of expectancy for what we knew we would soon be celebrating. And the first gift – Tabu perfume – that I ever received from a boy – a fellow 6th grader who had a crush on me. I still see that brand in drugstores and instantly recall the sultry headiness of the scent. (Of course, at that age, those adjectives were not part of my vocabulary!)

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