Memorable smells of summer

Published 5:11 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2017

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Over the years, I’ve written a number of times about various smells and the memories they evoke. Smells are, in fact, the sense that has the greatest connection to memory — stronger even than sight or hearing.

That’s why you can walk into a kitchen where an apple pie is baking and instantly be taken back in time to your mother or grandmother’s kitchen many years earlier. It’s why a musty cellar in an old house may seem terribly familiar to one who grew up on a farm where canned goods were kept in such a place.

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There are other, less pleasant memorable smells. This week was so hot and dry that the yard began to have the smell of dry, hot weather. Dying grass has a very subtle but distinct odor and, in this case, brings back memories of dry summers and failed crops a half century ago.

That olfactory experience was followed by a far more pleasant one Friday evening —a summer shower. The clean, invigorating odor of freshly washed fields, with crops relishing the life-giving water. In my youth, the cool air that often accompanies a shower swept through the screened-in porch that separated our kitchen from the remainder of the house. It was a great place to sit and listen to rain falling and to enjoy the emerging smell of renewed life that came with it.

Smells can linger long after their source has been eliminated. An old horse barn that hasn’t seen a horse in years can smell — or at least, you think it can — of harness leather and horse sweat. A silo, long abandoned, may still offer something of the sweet, fermented odor of silage.

The seasons carry smells, each of them unique. Spring odors have a sense of rebirth and new beginnings.

Summer carries the smells already mentioned, together with growing crops, ripening corn, orchards of apples and peaches.

Fall odors tend to be quite powerful. Freshly dug peanuts come to mind as among the most pleasant, but there are dying corn stalks, piles of oak leaves and grass mown for the final time.

Winter odors tend to be subtle, but have much to do with the freshness of the air, the crispness of a frosty morning.

Then, of course, there are the smells that are indisputably unpleasant but memorable. Several weeks ago, I got so wrapped up in a Wednesday sailboat race that I forgot to take the trash dumpster down the lane to be picked up. A week later, when I did deliver it, the container was so rank as to be nauseating. Ah, the memory of smells.

On occasion, I’ve invited readers to contribute to some simple “Rows” research, such as country sayings they love. Do smells evoke a strong memory you would like to share? Drop a note to I’d love to read about it and share it with others.