Like poignant land mines

The sweet scent of these plumeria brought back happy Hawaiian memories. Barbados, March 2010

The sweet scent of these plumeria brought back happy Hawaiian memories.
Barbados, March 2010

“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 Sterculia foetida 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:

A vision that stays

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.


  1. Great post, Julia.
    Reminds us all to embrace every day and don’t neglect our senses. For they are a gift from God and therefore are of great importance.

    • That’s so true, Alan. Sometimes what is really important is hidden from us by its very familiarity, but it’s worth the effort to learn how to sharpen our senses. Thanks for being here!

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