Scents and Sensibility

Jet lag has had me feeling foggy since I returned from South Africa to the US last week after 42 hours in-transit.  So when the terrier-boy and I set out for our walk this morning I decided a good way to sharpen my sensory perception would be to follow his lead and pay attention to the smells I encountered along the way.

Scents are chemically complex and to process them takes both our nose (olfactory receptors in the nasal cavity) and the limbic system, areas in our brain that also handle memory and emotion.

The English language is rich with evocative words for the world we experience through our eyes and fingers and tongue and ears. Musical sounds even have a formal vocabulary. Our scent lexicon is rather impoverished, comparatively speaking. Perhaps that because smells tend to trigger strong visual images of people and places, pulling our attention away from the subtle notes coming in through our nostrils.

We can still enjoy our olfactory faculties, despite the language limitation, so every time Dash stopped to probe with his superior canine snoot I pecked the air with my inferior human beak. Here’s what wafted by:

damp soil — earthy… but that’s redundant, isn’t it?

fresh-mown grass — the signature scent of summer

dryer sheets — laundry day at the suburban homes near the trail

hot automobile brakes — from a car stopped at the crosswalk

oakleaf hydrangea — lightly sweet-and-sour although most varieties are scentless

cigarette smoke— someone in running shoes and shorts seated on a bench

tree of heaven—  (aka stink-tree) the blooms offer a strong “perfume” reminiscent of cat urine but the tree managed to snag the starring role in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

NDN Challenge:  Now it’s your turn! Step outside and let your nose lead the way.  Report on what you discovered in the comments section below!

[Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons license: Joy Weese Moll.]


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