We’re experiencing the January thaw around here. This isn’t a scientific thing, of course, and it doesn’t happen every year. We had snow before Christmas, but it didn’t linger too long. We’ve had cold days since, but none so bad that I couldn’t jog a couple miles over lunch. The ground has started to freeze but much of the grass is still green. The changing seasons are largely olfactory to me. You can smell fall and spring coming. I’m not talking about burning leaves in autumn or the first hint of magnolia in spring. No, I mean the aroma of the earth. Stuck indoors as we often are, we’ve been conditioned to think our sense of smell is under-developed and therefore unimportant. Overall, however, humans don’t rate too shabbily in the nasal range. We don’t experience the aromatic realm as much as dogs, vultures, bears, or mice, but our sense of smell is vitally important.
Not only does smell tether us to memory, it also influences moods. Studies done on those deprived of scent by disease or accident indicate higher levels of depression. All of us know how vital scent is to taste. We don’t appreciate, I suspect, how the aroma of our earth can inspire us. Yesterday as temperatures crept into the 60s, I stood outside breathing deeply. It was only in my back yard, and the clouds were low and gray. Spring clearly came in the gusty air. I know that the bulk of winter lies ahead. January’s only just tuning up, and February has us in its sights. The aroma of spring will once again be frozen to await release in more timely fashion. I’ve been feeling chilly since October, layering up and reluctantly bidding goodbye to the scents of autumn. Winter’s sterility has begun, but we’re being teased just now by a nature that likes to remind us who’s really in charge.
As I grow older, I’m hoping I’ll learn to smell winter. My nose spends too much of it feeling cold, and when I wrap my face in a scarf, I have only my own breath to breathe. What is the odor of winter? The faint hint of smoke from a neighbor’s chimney? The briny tang of a freshly salted roadway? The pine of a newly cut Christmas tree? Outdoors there’s life throbbing, pulsing slowly beneath the chill. Even after the great ice ages, it was ready and eager to reemerge. Today I smell spring in the air. It’s not yet here, and won’t be for some time. Scent is ever only temporary but today there’s yearning in the air.