Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Scent Path

Of the senses, I believe scent to be my favorite. That doesn't mean I would choose it over the ability to see or hear, it means that scent brings me pleasure in ways the others do not. We can all agree that seeing a puppy or hearing the sound of a newborn brings us joy, but scent is a highly subjective and personal experience. Sauerkraut may remind someone of winter afternoons wrapped in the comfort of their grandmother's kitchen. It makes me think of vomit.

Scent is the sense most associated with memory; in fact the place in your brain that processes and interprets odors is right next door to the place that "contains" your memories. Trigger scent and most likely you've triggered a memory that pertains to it. Hence my association of sauerkraut to vomit.

Tonight during our walk I watched Duncan trace nearly our entire path with his nose. He stops at the same places every night, sniffing here, taking a deep breath there, analyzing everything through his nose. He knows things about the park that I could never imagine, like where the rabbits have sat, cautious and careful as they move across the fields at night, or perhaps what the short, rectangular-shaped hound we occasionally see had for breakfast this morning.

Following his lead, I let me nose guide me. As we cross Bowles, just outside the gate, the smell of earth is strong, almost pungent, wet, like an old fishing net. The earth is soft and I know they water too long at night, so the mossiness of it is no surprise. As we cross the football field, which always smells of thick, freshly mowed grass, and enter the square at the center of four of the baseball fields, I smell popcorn and beer from the concession stand, typical, cliche and also perfect. Coming out and up the hill toward the playground there is the smell of cedar, which always makes me think of Tyrone, the gerbil I had when I was younger. The floor of his cage was covered in cedar chips, which I could always hear him moving around in. That takes me backs to nights on Booth Road, when I sat in my window, listened to Tears for Fears or Depeche Mode and to the baseball game down at the field at the end of the street. On those nights, with Ty scurrying back and forth across his cage and the smell of sage and junipers from the hills around us, I listened for the sharp slap of the ball meeting the bat and I always felt the world was as it should be.

Past the playground I can smell the lake, fishy and duck shitty, but strong and pleasant and full of memory. Never a real fisher myself–although I wanted to be–I spent a great portion of my childhood either sitting on riverbanks or lake shores with my grandmother and mom, eating a peanut butter sandwich, keeping my eye on my bobber to see if something had snagged my worm. It was at Chester Bridge, where we sometimes took afternoon trips with my grandparents, that we stood on the bridge, facing south, and watched the Snake River pass beneath us, creating the illusion that we were moving, leaving the water behind.

Around the edge of the lake, after stopping to take a picture, we passed a couple who'd come out to the park on a date. The man was holding the woman, who looked a little drunk, but was happy when he guided her to the swinging benches overlooking the water and the mountains and the sunset above that. She reeked of perfume, a sweet, Springy smell, flowery, with maybe something like clove as the bass note. Duncan and I followed her path all the way down the backside of the hill. I closed my eyes and allowed my nose to guide me, and for a moment I wondered if perhaps this is what it's like to be a dog, to trust that side of yourself that people seem to take for granted. Eventually we moved out of her path, but I could've pointed out her car, her smell was so strong around it.

And then near the skate park and the playground nearby everything smells of cigarettes, sweat, fast food and salt. Past that we we're back onto the wide fields where everything smells green and healthy, with the cinnamon fragrance of red Autumn just growing stronger every day.

This weekend is Summerset, a festival in which the park will become a playground of events and booths and balloons and people and odors. We probably won't get to throw the ball much, and it'll be quite crowded, but maybe I'll take Duncan just to see where his nose leads us.

(If you'd like to read more about scent, and the other four senses, check out Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses–easily one of my all-time favorite books.)

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