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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, September 29, 2023

I need happy thoughts. It’s been an exhausting week.

Since thinking about lovely sounds was so enjoyable, I decided to move on to delightful scents.

It is a good time of year for that because when it gets chilly you shut the windows so whatever smell is in the house stays inside. Which means you better have something that smells good.

Candles. Candles smell good, or at least some of them do. I love the woodsy and spiced scents like amber and smoke, birch and mint, persimmon and chestnut, balsam and fir. I like the fresh scents like lemon, grapefruit, and ocean. I tend not to like floral scents because they usually smell like a perfume department and that just makes me sneeze. But lighting candles and shutting the windows so the scent permeates the house is quite delightful.

I found out recently that my favorite candle is being discontinued. So I called the company that makes them and asked how many they had left. Fourteen.

I bought all fourteen.

Baking. Anything, really. Pie, cookies, bread. It’s hard to think of anything that doesn’t smell good when it’s baking. That should be followed by eating whatever is baked for the full effect.

Sauce. Onions frying and then sauce. Oh my, that is truly one of the most delicious and emotionally satisfying smells on the planet. I think it even trumps baking. One of my very very favorite things was waking up on a weekend to my mother or grandmother making sauce. That savory smell of onions and garlic… it’s the most comforting thing in the world.

We ate sauce every single Sunday. I don’t make it very often anymore but when I need that home-cooked feeling, I will dig out the canned tomatoes and spend a Saturday or Sunday stirring a pot and breathing in happy aromas.

I have read that of all our senses, scent has the most power to unearth memories. I believe it. I mean, a certain song might remind you of a place and time. Eating a certain food brings up associations with events or periods in your life. But smelling something has the ability to transport you. You can actually feel what it was like to be in that place smelling that thing. Scent connects you on a visceral level where words and explanations don’t play.

It’s why when I found my grandmothers dish towels in a wardrobe cabinet after she died, I immediately put my face in them and inhaled the scent of her, the grandma-drawer-sachet smell that you can’t really define but you know exactly what it smells like and you could pick it out of a lineup every time.

Like the smell of Christmas. It’s attic and tissue paper and also that ethereal cinnamon-spice scent whenever you walk into a store or get a bag of those holiday pinecones.

I read that when you smell something your brain is more active than when you see it. Scent goes straight from your nose to your brain, unlike your other senses which have to pass through your thalamus first. The difference is that scents hits your instinctive lizard brain directly, whereas other senses get processed by a relay station and then sent on to the brain. It makes a difference.

It’s why scent can instantly trigger an emotion or memory, and why it has such a huge impact on your state of mind.

It’s why I light candles when I’m crabby or tired or stressed, and people use essential oils for the same reasons.

It’s why I can smell coffee brewing and even though I don’t like the taste of it and have never had a whole cup of it in my entire life, it will still transport me to childhood mornings waking up to that smell. It makes me feel warm and safe, knowing there are adults around me doing reassuring adult things while I breathe the air in their cozy little bubble. Coffee brewing means there are people to take care of you and all is right and good in the world.

Ocean. Doesn’t transport me, interestingly enough, maybe because I have so many associations and memories and they are not too far back in my mind. The ocean is never going to be something I say oh yeah, forgot about that!

But I love the smell of whatever the combination is of salt water and seaweed and fish and sand and crabs and whatever else happens on the beach.

Zoo smell. It reminds me of summers with my family. And my mother always saying ooooh that smell! as we trekked fourfivesix of us from station wagon to monkey exhibit to tram ride to ice cream.

Bacon cooking. Please. Was that in question?

Books. Especially old and used ones. Sometimes if I’m just out and about and buying books on a whim, I will base my decision on the one that smells best. You can’t judge a book by its cover, right? So I judge it by its scent.

I stick my face in the pages then fan them out in front of me and inhale the scent of paper and ink. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever picked a book up to read it and not stuck my face in it first.

That smell when it’s about to rain. You could predict the weather on that smell.

Fire. That cozy, smoky, woodsy smell of fall and winter nights.

Pine. Pine in a fire. After Christmas, instead of throwing out the tree, my father cut it up into little pieces and fed them into the fireplace. They snapped and cracked and sparked, embers flying and flames blazing. There was always that threat of sparks flying into the room and setting something on fire, but it was dad. And dad would protect you.

All the fall spices. Clove. Anise. Ginger. Allspice. I mean, all of the above? I have jars of spices from when Ralph and I made bitters and sometimes I use them for cooking but I seriously sometimes just stick my face in the jar.

Rosemary. Any herb or spice smells amazing but I could fall face-first into a rosemary bush and stay there for days. When we were in Olema, there was a rosemary bush – more like a rosemary tree – growing beside the door of our cottage. I had never seen rosemary as anything but a potted herb and couldn’t believe how huge this thing was. And how utterly delicious.

That bush to the right of the door is the smell of Olema.

I could do this all day but I need to go light a candle and I think I’ll make some sauce tomorrow. While it’s cooking I will stick my face in a book and breathe for a while. Who knows, maybe I will even read it.

Photo: It’s not “Sunday” sauce but it smells just as good.