The memory of smells


 

 

I have always been the kind of person who loves that sharp, metallic, tang you can smell before a good, thrashing thunderstorm. I love storms, my grandma told me my grandpa used to sit in his rocker on their enclosed porch during a storm and the wilder the storm, the faster he would rock. People who love rain are called Pluviophiles, and I claim that title, as well as Nemophilist, or lover of the woods and forest. My sister and her husband are Oeniphiles—lover of wine, which I can also relate to.

According to Psychology Today, smells evoke memories more than our other senses because they are first processed by the olfactory bulb which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain before traveling to the amygdala and hippocampus, whereas the other senses bypass these brain areas.

Who doesn’t love the scent of a new-mown lawn (a universal favorite I think)? For me, it automatically brings to mind “old fashioned” and creates a mind vision of an old, Victorian-style home with tall columns supporting the expanse of a wide, wrap-around porch. An aged and creaky porch swing in deep green, on its last legs, is shaded there by a huge, spreading tree. A nearby table holds tall, cold glasses of sweet and tangy lemonade, beaded with condensation. It’s interesting because I never lived in such a house but have a love of the style nonetheless.

It’s amazing how certain smells strike me emotionally sometimes. Walking in the woods recently, the rich cloying, scent of soaking wet earth sucking on and attempting to capture my boots—the rich, brothlike, creamy smell of mud—like homemade gravy but slightly tangy. Exploring where I might have created that memory, I absent mindedly let the cat in, and it hits me.

Another strong memory, of a wet cat sneaking in out of the rain after rambling for several hours through his own jungles, deserts, and primeval forests– full of cat adventure. His scent awakes a childhood memory of places dark, deep, and haunting; a basement vague with shadow, and musty concrete assaulting the nerves reminding one of old, decrepit, gravestones.

Pungent images wrought from the smell from his damp fur, pulled from the abyss of time and distance. I still remember the scuttling squeaks and imagined groans fill my heart with the terror of the first time I followed the sassy furball beneath the porch and under the crawlspace of the house—my nostrils trying desperately to filter oxygen from the dust while my head struggled not to hit the floor above.

I recall jumping in fright at the sensation of something crawling up my leg. I often hid out there, and following a good rain it smelled almost fresh—creating that emotional reaction I get today to fresh wet earth– a deep and soulful melancholy.

Paula Schmidt is a staff writer for the View Newspapers. Contact her at pschmidt@mihomepaper.com.