Friday, January 30, 2009

Sense of Scents

I live in a stinky world.

Among the other quirks and talents I have been "blessed" with is an exceptionally strong sense of smell. I was first aware of this in regards to cigarette smoke. Both of my parents smoked throughout my childhood, and I hated it. When I was old enough to be a smartas...I mean, assert my independence, I made a point of leaving the room whenever my mother lit up. It was about that time that I realized that I was freakishly aware of any tobacco smoke in my vicinity.

My father had particular trouble quitting smoking, going for years after my mom finally kicked the habit. He was a sneaker, going "over to the barn" in the evenings. One night I had to find him for a phone call, and ended up following his smoke trail all the way around the outside of the barn, before finding him by the silo, pretending to look at the stars. My memory of the brief exchange that followed is as clear as that cold night sky:
"Dad, you should know I can smell cigarette smoke for, like, half a mile."
"Oh, really?"
(Gee, I wonder where I got my smartass tendancies?)

Today, I can smell cigarette smoke trailing from cars ahead of me in traffic. When I take Rosie out front for her morning toilette, I know when my neighbors are up and about, because one of their first acts is a smoke on their back deck. But it's not just cigarettes. At night, in the dark I can tell whether Rosie's finally peed, because I can smell it. Yep. That's why I wrote "blessed" in quotes in the first paragraph. Some things I'd rather not smell.

I'm using this superpower as a gauge of my recovery from a recent bout with sinusitis (or whatever it was). The second day I stayed home, I got a whiff of the garbage. "Well, I guess I'm starting to clear up," I thought. The first day back to work, I brought leftovers for lunch, and as I told Miss Chef, "It tasted better today than last night." She replied, "Maybe you were tasting better." This morning, I could tell Rosie had done her morning pee--from across the yard. When I reached into the pantry, I knew it was time to take out the trash. And, coming back into the house from that chore, I smelled a stale combination of garbage and morning breath. Ugh! Can't wait 'til we can air the place out.

Sometimes, though, stinky smells are in the nose of the beholder--so to speak. Last night, I finally took Miss Rose out for our evening constitutional, after three days off. We did a quick round of the pond in our common area. I don't know if I've described it, but it's quite charming in its small way, surrounded by a small wooded area, which itself backs onto a cow pasture.

Last night, those cows were particularly fragrant. And I realized...ok, time for frightening honesty...I actually kind of like the smell of cow manure. And I imagine I'm not alone in this. That smell reminded me of summers in the Ohio countryside where I grew up; of hot afternoons at the county fair; of late-spring drives through Amish country to my horseback riding lessons. I remember realizing at some point that I could actually tell the difference between cow manure and horse manure. What use is there for that talent, I wonder?

In truth, I find my hyperactive sniffer quite useful in everyday life. I will never mistakenly bite into a moldy piece of bread, because I can smell that sucker when I open the bag--even if there's only one tiny green circle hiding in there. If there's something spilled in the house, I can find it before it starts to fester. I know when it's time to clean the drains, run the disposal, throw out the onions or clean out the fridge, before they become overwhelmingly gooey in their return to a more natural state.

And, can I pretend that I enjoy good smells even more than most people? That fresh bread smells toastier, flowers smell lovelier, clean laundry smells fresher? And that I maybe taste a little more strongly? Sweeter strawberries, more savory soups? I think I will pretend that; and I will also use that as my reason for disliking so many vegetables. Green peppers taste sharper, spinach so, so bitter, and spicy foods--fuggedaboudit. Ha! It's all clear now; my parents were torturing my sensitive palate with all that garden-fresh greenery!

Ah, er...maybe not. Doesn't explain my fondness for broccoli. Oh well, I think I'll go see if the sheets need to be changed.


  1. LOL - I share your "blessing" and have been told I have a "bionic nose". My husband is always bringing me a jug of milk or a suspicious package of lunchmeat demanding, "Smell this, and tell me if it's any good."

  2. I had a normal sense of smell... until getting pregnant. It was one of those weird changes to my body and it hasn't left... so I'm stuck with my own supersonic sniffer. I don't mind it most of the time. Especially since I can basically get high by smelling the packaging of a good herbal tea...

  3. I am the same way, but I find some things smell good to me that others might find odd. I like the "farm" smell, that warm animal, sweet hay smell and horses, I think that is my favorite smell. Not manure or wet, sweaty horse, but the smell of a clean reminds me of when I was a teenager and I was having a problem I would throw my arms around my horse's neck and bury my face in her hair. She always stood there as long as it took for me to pour out my problems to her. After that, fresh cut hay, lilac and laundry dried outside in the sunshine tops my list of favorite smells.


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