Wednesday, August 24, 2011
On the Heaven-Scented breeze....
I used to feel like blogging a large percentage of the time. I’d jot down ideas and later expand them into blog entries. But this summer I feel too private for that. I’ve turned inward and isolated myself (and my emotions) from others.
Part of that is that I feel somewhat unfocused a lot lately, and part is because I think I just put too much “out there” too often. But I think I am beyond that; for a while at least.
At night, many people in this community like to sit in their backyards and make bonfires. Part of this is to make smoke to keep the mosquitoes and blackflies at bay while part I think is the call of our ancestors who used to make open fires to cook food and for protection from predators. (Today the predators are other humans it seems) Frequently, the wood of choice is ocean driftwood, salty, pungent and somewhat unpleasant at times. Tonight however, someone is burning what smells to me like sugar Maple; sweet, reminiscent of the fires that used to burn in people’s stoves and furnaces when I was a child in New Brunswick.
This smell, along with the memories it triggered, got me thinking about our senses and how we use them and so in this entry, I will begin a series of blogs focused on our senses.
Smell, I think of all of our senses, can trigger so many memories, emotions, and sensations. Take the smell of a wood fire for example. Where I grew up, fires were used primarily for heat in the winter. Being a province rich in wood lands, our homes, were heated mostly by wood as were other buildings such as the “shack” at the skating rink where we put our skates on and occasionally thawed frozen toes and fingers; so to me, a wood fire brings back memories of winter with its sounds of snow crunching beneath our feet, the sight of the smoke from chimneys, sometimes laying flat against the rooftops, sometimes rising straight up to the heavens.
I can’t smell freshly cut grass without thinking of our little dead-end street in the early summer evenings. After the final meal, the men would head out and mow the lawns while the women washed the dishes and got the youngest of the children ready for bed. As we grew, the boys of the households became the mowers of the lawns while our fathers did other, more meaningful things, like smoke cigarettes and drink tea. Yet, even today, several hundred miles from that street, I have only to smell freshly cut grass and I am back on my street, in my village, in my family home.
Food smells are also a great trigger. Coffee made in an old-fashioned percolator can nearly always drag me back to my aunt Ruby’s house on a Saturday morning. (It’s odd how a certain smell can be associated with one certain place even though the smell itself is more universal) Bacon and eggs in a cast-iron frying pan takes me to the cottage, affectionately known as “the Camp” or “The Doughboy.” (No idea where that came from) Turkey and the trimmings will forever be Christmas day with Mom and Dad. Apple pie is generally associated with a favourite restaurant of long ago. French Fries and cotton candy are of course a Carnival.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in the forests surrounding our village. Fir, spruce, cedar, and pine trees were constant companions and I knew their scents intimately. I knew also the scent of spring, of the earth returning to life after a long, cold winter. I am familiar with the pungency of the decomposing leaves in autumn. The scents of animals; skunks (of course) bears, the wild cats and foxes all hold a place in my memory and even my heart.
More recently is the ocean, and while it pretty much surrounds me, there is one place that comes to mind when I smell the salt air. It is a short walk from this very house and I spent a lot of time there when I first came to this area. It has no real significant meaning to me other than I always remember it as being where I truly came to know the sea.
There can be unpleasant and frightening smells too: The smell of a burning old building, coated in coal dust, will forever remind me of the day I nearly lost my life in a fire that took all things musical from me. The smell of a forest fire still touches me with dread, such is its fury and uncertainty.
Gasoline, motor oil, and grease, all remind me of special people and places. My father worked for many years as a delivery man for Esso, and so always smelled of petroleum products. My cousin was handy with wrenches and always had a car or two on the operating table. Later, some of my high school buddies had less-than-reliable cars and so were frequently working on them to keep them going. Being inside those cars, the smells associated with them were ever-present.
The places I have performed throughout my musical career generally had distinctive smells. Many smelled of stale beer and cigarette smoke, but they all had something else as well. Perhaps it was the cleaning products that were used (there is one that always reminds me of school too) or the cologne of the bartender;
Which brings me to people scents. I can go some places and know if a certain person is already there or I am aware when they arrive, just by the smell of the air. People, even those who don’t use scented products all have a characteristic scent. Granted, it sometimes requires a certain level of intimacy to get close enough to notice, but it is there. I have encountered it during embraces and it is often very much the way their homes smell as well. One home I visited always smelled of apples, and the inhabitants did too!
What smells or odours remind you of good times and great people? What turns you off? What brings up unhappy memories or frightens you? I’d love to hear from you.