Follow Your Nose

It's a special time of year here in rural Maryland. You can feel the warming sun on your cheeks, the burning in your eyes and the stinging in your nose.

It's that time of year when the farmers simultaneously fertilize all of the fields that surround our little slice of land.

Throughout the month of March the air smells at times like a pungent cheese, and at other times like rotting mushrooms. Last week on a long picturesque walk down our country lane, the baby asleep in her stroller, Ez quietly observed a faint undertone of fart in the air that just wouldn't go away. Some days it's not so subtle and the thick, warm blanket of cow manure winds oppressively around your face.

Having grown up in the country, I like to pretend I'm used to it, but I think it's only instinctual to roll up your windows and gag a little. On the one hand it reminds me of going to the Amish market as a kid and eating breakfast at the restaurant above the livestock auction barn. If I remember correctly, the restaurant was literally on the top floor of the actual barn whose floor boards had gaps through which you could see live farm animals down below. Granted, the food was impeccably fresh, but it was not that appetizing.

Yet at the same time something about this rank manure smell is kind of oddly exciting for me, because around here it is a major harbinger of spring. And nobody hates winter more than I do. It's funny to me how a smell can be so gross, yet make me a little happy too.

Smell is such a powerful thing, given how closely scents both good and bad are linked with memories and emotions. Scientifically speaking it makes total sense because the brain's olfactory bulb, where smells are processed, is located near the limbic region where memories and emotions are processed. (I got an A in the one neuroscience course I took in college, so I am a certified expert in this.)

But it also makes total sense anecdotally speaking. The sharp smell of witch hazel will forever remind me of the first days of Johnnie's life. Febreeze takes me back to my sophomore dorm room at Brown, when the peerless architectural design of the Grad Center allowed all of the weed smoke from our downstairs neighbors to waft up into our suite and into our clothes. Sawdust reminds me of my dad, and Gloria Vanderbilt perfume, which my mom used to wear when I was little, is one of several smells I associate with her.

Some of my favorite smells: Warm cinnamon bread from H&S Bakery as it wafts through the air in Fells Point, Baltimore. The Art of Shaving's Sandalwood essential oil cologne, Ez's signature scent. Autumn leaves. Butter as it browns in a hot skillet. Lemongrass. Crayons. I happened to dislike the smell of fresh cut grass (it makes me sneeze), but Ez loves it because it reminds him of suiting up for football practice (he played from childhood through college). I love when you catch a hint of something that takes you to a different place like that.

This time of year, I'd love to be taken to a different place whenever the manure spreaders take to the fields, but it's okay. Soon enough the smell will fade and we'll have a nice long stretch of warm weather as our reward for our longsuffering.

What are your favorite smells? What memories do they bring back for you?

Image from here.


  1. smells that remind me of childhood: freshly baked bread, tomatoes from the garden (still LOVE that smell), dill (we had a cupboard in the kitchen that constantly smelled like dill for some reason), the vanilla carpet powder my mom sprinkled on before she vacuumed.
    smells that i have always loved: freshly cut grass (no allergies for me!), the smell of hot wet pavement in the summer when it first starts to rain, a new baby's skin.
    i have two friends that have no sense of smell. what a shame for them!!

    1. oo hot pavement smell. yes. toxic probably, but yes!

      my aunt doesn't have a sense of smell either. aside from not enjoying good smells, every time we visit she always asks if her house smells bad because she wouldn't be able to tell!


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