Like poignant land mines
“Nothing is more memorable than a smell…Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.”
— Diane Ackerman
Tangerines smell like Christmas to me, just as onions sauteed in butter with sage smell like Thanksgiving. A whiff of a cologne I wore only in my youth can bring back memories of people, incidents and even dresses I thought I had completely forgotten. And is there anything more delicious than the smell of wood smoke from someone’s chimney that first crisp autumn night?
It’s not just the lovely smells we remember. In the unlikely event I were ever near a “Skunk Tree” I would surely be flooded with sensations of being back in graduate school, with tests to study for and papers to write, as I had to stroll past that rare and pungent every day when I walked to class at the University of Hawaii in Manoa. Yet the disagreeable odor would be bittersweet to me now, as my years at UH were full of happy times.
Of all our five senses, smell is perhaps the one we tend to notice the least, but our unconscious mind is keeping records for us. Though we will never have the olfactory prowess of our animal friends, our brains can make some lightning-fast connections between what must be a complex calculus of factors that make each smell unique and identifiable even after many years without experiencing it.
Have you ever had a scent detonate an explosion of memories in the way Ackerman describes? What smells evoke the most treasured memories for you?
One year ago today: