A memorable smell of fall

Published 6:47 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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I’ve used this space a number of times to talk of country smells, and during no time of the year are they more pronounced than fall.

The cooler temperatures and the freshness in the air in the fall accentuate the smell of falling leaves. It brings out the subtle odor emitted by that final grass cutting when the mower waste is at last drying, forecasting — at least for those of us with more “natural” yards — an end to mowing for the year. Burning leaves were once another familiar smell, though less often enjoyed today.

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Thousands of smells, only some of them related to fall, trigger memories, and they are usually pleasant ones. We tend to catalogue them away in our minds for times when they’re needed, while discarding more unpleasant events from the past.

Here in Southeast Virginia, we have all but lost one smell that, more than any other, used to be fall’s signature. That’s the smell of freshly dug peanuts. It’s a unique and pleasant blend of freshly dug earth, decaying peanut vines and drying peanuts. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll never forget it.

To fully appreciate this smorgasbord of olfactory sensations, one needs to venture into the country at night, and now that the acres of peanuts grown each year is only a fraction of what used to be, you really have to hunt down the experience. Pick a clear evening when there is little breeze to disburse what nature is brewing. On such a night, dew will fall quickly, and dew is a critical ingredient as nature releases this blend of its finest smells.

If you’re fortunate, there will be sufficient moonlight to complete the drama. The last full moon was Thursday (the Harvest Moon, incidentally) but, weather permitting, there still be a touch of waning moonlight nights this week, and what peanuts there are have largely been dug in Isle of Wight and Surry.

When an evening haze, created by the quickly falling temperature, hangs over a field of dug peanuts with a somewhat surreal glow, then the olfactory sense can savor the earthy smell of freshly dug peanuts. With not a breath of air stirring, nature’s stew of odors explodes, enveloping all around.

Such a night conjures memories of childhood evenings, of shocked peanuts and squirrel hunts, of eating persimmons touched by frost.

And it’s moments like that continue to make living in the country very special.