Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Missing “Scents”

I think smell is one of the five senses we tend to take most for granted, and yet it’s one we depend on more than we realize. It’s allergy season for me. The cottonwood trees are in full bloom and are filling the air with their own form of watery-eye, itch-inducing, fuzzy snow. Even with taking allergy meds it’s a miracle when I can breathe clearly through both nostrils at the same time.

Today happened to be one of those days. While Phillip and I were walking across the pedestrian bridge spanning the Rogue River, I noticed two distinct scents. They were so strong we joked that someone had stopped and sprayed two canisters filled with the particular smells just to catch people’s attention. (In truth, they come from two different trees growing along the river.) The first smell was sweet, a mix of floral and spice drops. It’s the perfume I attributed to the fabled gumdrop trees in the realm of Fancy. The other reminded me of my brothers’ soccer bags after a week of daily doubles.

Smell is also key to taste. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to differentiate the passion fruit from the rest of the flavors of the tea I ordered this morning. Everything just blends together obscurely. I know it’s there, I get a hint of the flavor, but it lacks the full body. And then there is the role it plays in creating memories. A whiff of cologne or body spray will bring to mind a friend or family member I haven’t seen in years. Vinegar reminds me of the summer my grandmother spilled a full bottle in her car. Finally, smell can alert us to danger long before we see or hear it, such as smoke, gas, or milk that has recently turned.

Why this long-winded talk of smell, you wonder? Well, I’ve been helping some friends with their writing projects over the past few months and I’ve noticed sight and sound has been abundant, but there has been little mention of the smells surrounding their characters. This made me take a closer look at some of the books I’ve been reading. Lo and behold, there it was: Sight. Sound. Touch. Taste. And Smell. Coupled with the past few weeks of limited breathing capabilities, I’ve become more aware of just how flat the world is without the sharp, sweet, sour, and gym-bag fumes permeating my environment. It’s one more thing I’m keeping in mind as I work through my own revisions.

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