What is it about the sense of smell that so strongly evokes distant times and places? Of all the senses, smell seems most closely tied to memory.
Is it because it’s rooted in our hind brains? Is it connected to our animal past, hooked directly to the amygdala? Is it a primitive leftover meant to warn us of danger or draw us to food long before we can see either?
I don’t know. But I know it’s powerful. I know that when I think of a time or place, it’s the scent that seems most real.
If I think of Classic Star Trek, I smell again the peculiar aroma of the TV room in the basement of Holmes Hall. A mix of aging vinyl seats, sweat, musty basement and faint chemicals. Nasty, but nostalgic.
When I think of the mall, I smell Cinnabons. When I think of movies, I smell popcorn. When I think of elementary school I smell crayons and chalk dust.
Is it just me? Is it a side-effect of defective eyes and ears? Or is it everyone?
Does the smell of a certain perfume make you look up, impossibly expecting your mother to walk into the room? Does the smell of cooking hotdogs bring you back to hot summer afternoons? Will woodsmoke forever make you relive being 10 years old, on your first camping trip?
So many scents. So many memories. So much being catapulted through years, through versions of myself, through places now long gone. I am pulled by the nose down paths dear and dreadful, through scenes I cherish, and scenes I would pay to forget.
Of all the senses, smell seems to be the closest. Under the skin close. Up against the nerves close.
What is it about the sense of smell, anyway?
Picture Attribution: Photograph of Roses taken on June 18, 2009 at the MSU Horticulture Gardens in East Lansing, Michigan, by Laura Drane.