Have you ever been busy doing something and suddenly, a distinctive scent wafts by? Immediately, you are transported to another place and another time, somewhere in your past. It’s so real, and you can almost reach out and touch the moment the aroma made its first impact on your mind! [Apparently, there is a scientific explanation for this – smells and memories are easily captured (and kept in association with each other) by the human brain. Amazing stuff!]
Some smells may arouse recollections of unpleasant things for some people, but that is not what this post is about. I would like to focus on those treasured moments that you have mentally stored away and now get to keep forever and relive whenever you please, just by getting a whiff of a particular smell! Those times when you have thought “I wish I could just bottle this minute and keep it forever”.
Imagine a row of old aromatic bottles with faded labels. For example one may be labelled ‘Grandma’ with the dosage: ‘Inhale deeply three times for a recollection of unlimited love and lots of bear hugs’. And further along the shelf, a clear bottle with a pale pink marble in the top and ‘Rose’ in beautiful copperplate script on the side. The contents: a heady perfume of full blown roses on a warm summer day – you can almost hear the bees buzzing as you close your eyes and sniff appreciatively, forgetting all about the cold wind that has had you shivering all day.
Most of my treasured scent-filled bottles were filled when I was a child.
Our annual family Christmas holidays took place in a lovely quiet beachside town. Living in the southern hemisphere, December is summer holiday time and life did not get any better than having long sunshine filled days, a beach at your doorstep and 3 glorious weeks with no homework. Friends were abundant and there was so much to do, it was difficult to fit it all in. The fact that Santa arrived midway through the holiday, made it just perfect. The most characteristic smell of those days was the smell of the sea!
Now, seaweeds, seashells or simply the whiff of a sea breeze immediately take me back to this time and place, triggering memories of those days. All stored in a tall, deep blue virtual bottle tagged ‘Seaside’. Not to be confused with ‘Seabreeze’ – to be used ‘liberally when recollections of long walks on deserted windy beaches are required to clear the mind and re-invigorate the senses’.
But there was another very different smell that I ‘bottled’ at this holiday destination too. I am not sure why there was wood smoke in the air on some days – I never thought to ask what was being burnt, but it was a lovely aroma. There was a timber mill on an island nearby – perhaps they were burning offcuts, or more likely sawdust. The smoke was always invisible – just a gentle suggestion of highly aromatic wood being slowly combusted. My brown opaque bottle of ‘Timbersmoke’ reliably releases memories of many carefree times, as does the aroma of ‘Seaside’.Then there is a magical green bottle of ‘Christmas fir’. I am not sure what species of fir went to make this wonderful scent. But it could be found without fail, every Christmas Eve, decorating the front of the church we attended. Enormous branches, and lots of them, transformed the church and the pungent smell of the leaves drifted through the whole place. Add to this a few Christmas carols and my little world was perfect! These firs must be fairly common in most cities, because I frequently get to savour ‘Christmas fir’ as I pass by on the sidewalk – lucky me!
But my aromatic bottling exploits were not limited to holiday time.
My very early years at school were a time that I enjoyed immensely. The scent of wood from newly sharpened pencils and crayons still evokes memories of happy times spent drawing and learning to read and write. It is a credit to my pre-primary teacher that I loved this time and now have a big, vividly coloured bottle of ‘Crayon’ on my shelf of aromatic recollections. This bottle now gets opened and savoured frequently – every time I draw or use pencil crayons.
It was also around this time that I became aware of the smell of rain. Anyone who has experienced the smell of raindrops on parched soil will know exactly what I am referring to. I never get tired of rainy days, especially when the weather has been unrelentingly hot. This is probably something to do with the fact that I live on the second driest continent in the world and have never lived in a place where rain has worn out its welcome. The first few drops in a summer storm have a scent that rolls back the years and takes me back to being a small child, excited about an impending shower of rain and the possibility that I might just get to use that new umbrella after al!
In subsequent years, I provided immense amusement for my peers as I eagerly got new books and submitted them to a ‘smell’ test. They probably thought I was a bit eccentric, but the print and paper in some new books has a marvelous and very characteristic smell! In my view, the longer the smell lasted, the better the book! I could identify ‘aromatic’ books purely by sniffing a page or two. Each book got its own bottle and now, many years later, I can still recall the scent and title of each of these books quite vividly.
It is sometimes possible to cheat and go to where you know you will find a shelf of aromatic memories. For example, I can occasionally be found in a bookshop gently inhaling the smell of newly printed pages and being transported back in time….
This is just a short summary of some of my favourite smells. What types of bottles of aromatic recollections do you have on your shelf? How often do you get to pull out the stopper and go on a scent-induced trip down memory lane?