Smells make the memories

Got a whiff of something this morning, instantly taking me back to a place I’ve been, and loved, in the past. Just a whiff, just for a passing second. 

I’ve read that dogs, deer, snakes, almost any animal can smell 10, 20, maybe 1,000 times better than humans. Perhaps they can. That doesn’t mean a human doesn’t have a sense of smell and can’t put that sense to use.  I’ve used my sense of smell hundreds of times for various reasons.  

But the whiff I sniffed this morning had nothing to do with usefulness. It was what I call a “memory” sniff. When you are doing something enjoyable it’s mostly the sights and sounds making the event memorable.  It’s also the background smells, but few people realize or recognize the odor when it’s happening. It’s only later when you get an errant whiff of that same odor that your brain instantly recognizes it, instantly categorizes it and instantly recalls memories of the activity with the distinctive smell. 

As a parent, the smell of baby powder always brings me back to my baby-diapering days. The smell of a roasting turkey always reminds me of holidays past, at my house, my parent’s or grandparent’s. 

There are outdoor smells, as well. Probably more of them, at least for me. 

I love the smell of outboard motor exhaust. Not a steady dose, just a whiff of the exhaust fumes. I love the smell of a duck blind. In the dawn’s early light it’s a mix of moldy leaves and camouflaging material, tainted with a bit of marsh mud on my boots. 

Later in the day, a second, maybe two, after firing the shotgun at a circling mallard, the smell of  freshly fired gunpowder presents a quarter-second of scent that’s gone sooner than you realize. But the next time you smell it you’ll instantly be back in the blind and instantly thinking of the drake you dumped cleanly into the decoy spread. 

I love the faint smell of skunk musk coming from some far-off spot. What sort of wild encounter was played out way over there causing the skunk to use it’s ultimate weapon? 

Did you know fish have an odor? Not dead, rotting fish, although a couple of those floating around a harbor or boat ramp do add to the olfactory experience – maybe positively in the cool light of dawn, maybe negatively at high noon on a hot day. Take a whiff of the next northern pike you catch. More so, breathe in the fresh, cucumber-like odor from the next king salmon you tow to the net.  

Sometimes, just take pause and savor the rich smells our weak noses are capable of detecting. There’s the sour smell of freshly split oak wood. There’s the campfire smell it produces later as it burns. The musky smell of a fall-shot buck or the organic smell of a cottontail as you remove it’s entrails readying it for the pot or skillet. They are all smells like no other. 

Should I list more? How about wet dogs, farm trucks, a barn full of hay, the rush of odor that pushes out a well used pair of waders when you don them. 

Sights and sounds are the now of the outdoors. Smells make the memories.  

Categories: MicBlogs, Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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