three books

three books

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Scratch and Sniff

Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived. The odors of fruits waft me to my southern home, to my childhood frolics in the peach orchard. Other odors, instantaneous and fleeting, cause my heart to dilate joyously or contract with remembered grief. Even as I think of smells, my nose is full of scents that start awake sweet memories of summers gone and ripening fields far away.

-- Helen Keller

I came across that quote years ago reading a fabulous book called "The Natural History of the Senses" by Diane Ackerman - a good read overall but my favorite part was the chapter about smell. Here is the introduction.

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel; another, hours of passion on a moonlit beach in Florida, while the night-blooming cereus drenched the air with thick curds of perfume and huge sphinx moths visited the cereus in a loud purr of wings; a third, a family dinner of pot roast, noodle pudding, and sweet potatoes, during a myrtle-mad August in a midwestern town, when both of one's parents were alive. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines, hidden under the weedy mass of many years and experiences. Hit a tripwire of smell, and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth.

The subject of this week's drawing challenge is smell and that made me hyper aware of all the magical scents I came across this week while the husband and I were off on a little journey to the Okanagan Valley. The term "spring is in the air" holds true while everywhere is fresh with new growth. I was thinking how odd it is that "good" smells can sometimes be bad and vice versa. For example my mother hated the smell of lilacs because she said they smelled like death. On the other hand she was an avid gardener and loved the smell of rich compost which, she said, smelled like new life. Go figure. I love the smell of the earth after rain (wet dirt) and the beach at low tide which, come to think of it, is mostly dead and rotting sea life and plants. And I love the smell of lilacs. Go figure.

So, as we left the sandy beaches of Skaha Lake (lovely swimming area for dogs) and headed on down the highway through beautiful Manning Park I realized that what I was smelling then, a shock to the olfactory receptors I can tell you, was one of the happiest scents in the world. Our soggy, sandy, satisfied dog had transformed that delicious NEW car smell into BOO car smell - making a lovely memory association that would last well beyond the holiday.

For more on the theme of SMELL visit Barbara's blog at


  1. Those are great quotes, and indeed, smells can evoke whole scenes and ranges of emotion. A lovely drawing challenge for spring!

  2. I love this painting and your story! :-) mano

  3. haha, your illustration fits your story so well, your dog looks happily innocent :)
    beautiful, interesting quotes Sue, and yes a lovely smell can be ugly in association with something we don't like, i have that with the smell of baked salmon, i can't stand it, i associate it with polluted water at the other hand motor bikes bring back funny youth memories.

    i filled some vases with lilacs from my garden yesterday, to me the smell is divine ;) xx

  4. Hi, Sue, thanks for your comment!
    I think I agree with you about what you say. the smells are in our minds, and have the power (or magic) to transport us to the past, right?
    oh, you have a Labrador (guess, for you drawing) I have one, and he loves the water
    ok I wish you a great weekend!