Posted tagged ‘smells’

“Smells are so powerful and evocative, sometimes stronger than visual cues.”

January 28, 2018

This is day 4 of the wash watch!

Earlier this morning I heard the rain and decided to turn over and get back to sleep. I slept for almost two more hours. Now I can face the rain.

Maddie is much better. I suspect the boneless chicken thighs I cooked for her worked miracles. She ate quite a bit yesterday and also ate all the pieces I had left on her plate when I went to bed. She is now meowing at me in her usual indignant voice. I’m even glad for that.

I have to go to the dump as I didn’t yesterday, and it is closed Mondays through Wednesdays. It won’t be busy in the rain .

I often buy flowers in the winter. My senses beg for stimulation. My eyes need colors. I just get so tired of grays and browns. I want vivid yellows and oranges. My nose craves the sweetness of flowers to combat the air in the house which gets stale from closed windows and doors. The Christmas tree helped for a while, and I was so sorry when its time had ended. I also burn candles, but nothing terribly sweet. I prefer aromas like apples, balsam and spices like cloves and cinnamon. I wonder about the candles with strange aromas. Who decided what Sweet Nothings or a Calm and Quiet Place smell like? I’m also curious about Sun-Drenched Apricot Rose. What does sun-drenched smell like especially when added to apricots and roses. I’m thinking maybe sweat.

I am getting forgetful; it’s a matter of aging. My word retrieval skills are blunted. I get distracted and forget what I wanted in the first place. Mnemonics have become my best friends, and I use my mother’s trick of going through the alphabet. Most times that works. My spelling skills often take a vacation. I wonder about the spelling of a word, and the longer I look, the stranger the word looks. I could use spell check but that only makes it worse.

It always amazes me that I am the age I am. I don’t feel old. I don’t think old. At least as far as I can remember.

“To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat.”

June 1, 2017

The rain yesterday was torrential at times. We even had thunder and lightning. Not once did the sun make an appearance. It was too busy shining in Boston. Gracie and I left for the dump when the rain was misty, but by the time we got there, it was pouring. I figured I was there anyway and might as well get rid of the trash. My sweatshirt got soaked. I decided right then and there I deserved one more stop, the chocolate store, the best decision of the day.

My eye is clear, but I still have to take eye drops four times a day. My other eye will be done June 6th.

The early morning was lovely. The air had a crispness almost more fall than summer, and it had the best after the rain smell, both fresh and clean and smelling of flowers and mulch. I stood on the deck watching Gracie and taking in the morning. Finally, we both went inside: me to coffee and the papers and Gracie to her morning snack. It will be warm today, a welcome change in the weather. I’ve already opened a window.

I’ve got to empty the water in the outdoor furniture covers so they can dry and then be put away. My deck still looks like it’s winter. A lot needs to be done. Plant shelves need to be sanded then repainted. The clay pots need cleaning before they can be filled with flowers, the same with the deck boxes. Placing the candle hooks in the pine trees will take a bit of ingenuity as some of the branches were lopped off during the fall clean-up. Lights on a few backyard trees have to be replaced. They died over the winter. I’m hoping for lots of warmth today, enough to dry everything so I can be outside on the deck reading and enjoying the air. I’ve had enough of the house.

“There is a Senate and a Congress who carry on endless sessions discussing garbage disposal and outhouse inspection, the only two questions over which they have jurisdiction.”

January 29, 2016

The sun is just now breaking through the clouds to defy the prediction of rain showers. We’re going to the dump later so I’d appreciate it if Mother Nature held off on the rain. I have a trunkful.

When I was a kid, the town trash trucks came once a week. My dad would haul the heavy barrels out of the cellar to the curb. The truck always had at least two men hanging off the back. They’d jump off, grab barrels, empty them into the back of the truck then toss the barrels to the curb. The guys wore heavy gloves and grubby clothes. I liked to watch when they’d compressed the trash to make more room. Our next door neighbor was a trash man and once in a while he’d do our home route. We’d all wave and yell.

I never really thought much about the garbage can in the back yard by the steps. It was in-ground, and you had to depress a lever to open it. I hated emptying the garbage from the house. The bin smelled awful and there were always maggots. The garbage truck also came once a week. The garbage man walked to the backyard carrying one barrel slung over his back. He’d open the bin, pull out the garbage can and dump it into his barrel. I always thought being a garbage man had to be the grossest job, but I was wrong.

The grossest job is being a night soil man anywhere. His job is to go from outhouse to outhouse to empty the pails while people are sleeping. I just happen to have met one in Ghana. It was while I was visiting my friends who didn’t have running water. I was back and forth to their outhouse during the night as I was suffering from a volunteer’s common ailment which necessitated frequent visits to the outhouse. I can’t imagine the night soil man was as surprised as I was. When he pulled out the pail, I heard the noise and jumped up. He poked his head just a bit into the hole and greeted me. I greeted him back. He smiled and put the empty pail back inside. I sat down. It had been the most interesting encounter.

“Smells, I think, may be the last thing on earth to die.”

November 12, 2013

I woke up to the sound of rain. It was earlier than usual, but I had a nine o’clock meeting anyway so I got up, started my coffee, ran out for the papers then ran back inside to a house filled with the wonderful aroma of freshly brewing coffee. I filled my cup and took the first sip. I can’t imagine starting any day without my coffee.

While I was at the library board meeting, the rain turned to snow for a few minutes, but at 37˚ it is still just a bit too warm to sustain the snow. I couldn’t be happier as I think it is far too early in the season for snow. On my way home the rain became sleet, giant globs of sleet. Gracie didn’t even want the window open. I was just so happy to get home and inside my warm house. It still smell of coffee.

We all have favorite smells. Some conjure memories of childhood while others bring to mind the people we love and miss. Places where we’ve been are pulled from memories, drawn by a smell. I love the smell of spring, of the earth and flowers and the first mown grass. I can smell rain before it comes. A summer rain cooling the hot pavement has a strange, easily recognized smell. I know when any neighbors have a fire going as the smell of burning wood permeates the air. Last year when the electricity was off for so long my house was filled with the aroma of burning wood, and it stayed for days. The pine smell of the Christmas tree fills the living room then spreads to all of downstairs. Sugar cookies baking always remind me of my mother. They were a Christmas tradition as was the decorating and eating cookies heavy with icing. The smell of turkey cooking in the oven at Thanksgiving draws the cats and the dog to the kitchen. They sit near the stove hoping for a taste. I never disappoint them.

I think that winter gives us a gift starting at Thanksgiving and lasting until the tree comes down in January. It is the season of smells mixed with memories.

“Each day has a color, a smell.”

September 12, 2013

Yesterday was summer with all its heat and humidity. We were cooler than most places, but that didn’t matter. I still took refuge in the house and the air-conditioning. This morning is cool and today will be hot but not like yesterday. I can already feel the difference in the humidity. The windows are open and the half-deflated Happy Birthday balloon from last month’s festivities is slightly swaying in the  breeze. Gracie is taking advantage of the open door and staying outside.

On the back of the door going down the cellar is my spice rack. When I open the door, I am assailed with the best smells, smells which give me pause. Curry seems to be the strongest, but there is also another smell, a combination of all the herbs and spices in the rack, a smell which makes me think of Marrakech and the spice market.

Years ago I went to Santa Fe, once with my sisters then again with my mother. I saw chimineas on that first trip and especially loved the clay ones with the primitive designs. My mother surprised me the next Christmas as she had bought me one. That was before anyone knew what they were, before they became a backyard standard. I use to sit on the deck and burn the piñon wood I had bought on-line. It had the sweetest smell.

My garden has a variety of herbs. Window boxes sit on the deck rail, and I have also herbs growing in each of them. Rosemary fills one box. I love rubbing my hand up the stalk of rosemary then smelling the herb on my hand. When I cook with the rosemary, the kitchen fills with its scent.

The smell of a summer rain has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. The smell of the rain comes before the storm, but once the rain begins, the smell is of wet earth and wet pavement. They have a singular smell, not sweet, maybe even a bit pungent, but they give the summer storm a bit of character, a depth the winter rainstorm never has.


I have my favorite Ghanaian smells-wood charcoal burning being the best one of all.

Fall is coming quickly and it will usher in the smells of the seasons, of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those smells conjure memories of childhood and of my mother’s kitchen. They are really the best of any smells.

“We are living in a ‘one morning’ world; we get up one morning and many things have changed! Tomorrow morning, there will be another ‘one morning!”

August 13, 2013

Mornings are my favorite part of the day. While the coffee is brewing, I go out on the deck just to look and listen, a sort of greet the day ritual. Mornings, I’ve decided, have their own smells. My favorite is when I can smell the ocean in the dampness of the air. On warm mornings the scents of flowers fills the air. I usually hear Gracie walking on the leaves in the backyard and the songs of a few birds. Most times I don’t ever hear people, only a car or two going up the street. Chickadees dine early and they are the only birds at the feeder. I’m seldom out there all that long, but it is a ritual I have come to love. When I get back inside, the house is filled with the aroma of coffee. I grab my papers and start the rest of my morning.

When I travel, I love to be up early to go out and see the mornings unfold. I think that gives me a greater sense of where I am. One early morning at Gettysburg, I was there when they opened the gates and was the only car on the road. The morning fog shrouded the battlefield. It wasn’t eerie but rather seemed solemn, quiet, as if even the fog recognized this was a holy place, a place where men died because they believed in something bigger than themselves. In the cities, I walk the streets and see stores opening and goods being delivered. I can smell bread and coffee and even exhaust all mixed together but not unpleasant. I see the delivery trucks and people on their way to work. In Santa Fe, I got a cup of coffee and a cinnamon bun then sat on a bench and watched the Indians set up their goods in front of the Governor’s Palace. The rest of the plaza was just about empty. In Marrakech my mornings started just a bit later. I sat on the roof of my riad eating breakfast by myself. The Atlas Mountains were in front of me and I was surrounded by the roofs of other houses. Women were hanging laundry and a few were cooking using a tagine over charcoal. I watched them every morning. In Ghana the mornings bustle. People are up early. Roosters announce the day. I could always smell wood fires and hear voices from the compounds by my house. I loved those mornings.

This is a busy week for me. My dance card is filled every day but Friday.

“Did you know that there are over three hundred words for love in canine?”

July 22, 2013

Today is sunny and really humid but much cooler than it has been. My windows and doors are open to the world. Gracie loves the freedom of going in and out on her own. I met my friend for breakfast though it was a mad dash to get there. I woke up at 8:45 and 9:00 is our usual meeting time. I multi-tasked: brushed my teeth while I was getting dressed and let the dog out while I was trying to find my sandals. I left my glasses home in the rush, but the spare pair was just fine. I made it in 17 minutes. To some people on the route I was a red flash they weren’t sure they saw.

When I was born, it was around 2 in the morning. My father was the only person in the waiting room. The nurse asked for Mr. Ryan as if it there was standing room only with crowds of men pacing the room. He saw me right away, minutes after I had been born, then rushed to my grandparents’ home to give everyone the news. The Duchess of Cambridge is in labor. Media trucks, cameras and reporters are outside the hospital waiting for the birth of the next heir to the throne. Tradition dictates that the news of the birth will come from an easel erected at Buckingham Palace. I didn’t have photographers or crowds waiting for my birth, but I had my Dad who rushed to make the announcement: the first grandchild had been born.

Today is dump day, finally. Gracie, of course, is coming. She loves our dump trips. She hangs her head out the window and takes in all the aromas. I never can smell anything. It’s definitely a dog thing.

Around 3:30 this morning, I heard Gracie’s bells. They were so loud I knew she was swinging them back and forth on the doorknob: her frantic attempt to wake me up. I came downstairs and let her out. She ran to the back and started to eat grass so I knew she had an upset stomach. I stayed on the deck. It was lovely and cool so I sat for a while. No lights were on in any house, and Gracie stayed in the way back so she didn’t trigger the dog lights. After a time, I came back inside. Gracie didn’t, and I started to get worried so I put on flip-flops, grabbed my flashlight and went looking. I found her right away still munching on grass. I called her inside and gave her several spider plant fronds. She chewed every one of them then got on the couch and started to fall asleep. It was around 4:30 by then so I went upstairs to bed, and she eventually followed and fell asleep. This morning she is fine. I’m really tired.

“Childhood smells of perfume and brownies.”

April 15, 2012

Today is beautiful with no breeze and the brightest sun hanging in the sky. Fern is so relaxed lying in the sun shining through the front door that I had to check to make sure she was breathing. Gracie is outside sitting in the sun. She has a favorite spot on the back side of the yard where she sprawls on the grass. When she comes in to check on me, her fur will feel hot to the touch.

Yesterday I heard dogs barking, including my own, mowers and kids playing but not today. My neighborhood is Sunday quiet as if there was reverence still left for the day.

I have favorite smells. The every day favorite smells give me a sense of comfort and continuity like the smell of coffee brewing first thing in the morning or the smell of the ocean borne this far by the wind or the fog. Other smells transport me to different times and places. Last week I smelled leaves burning and saw a man tending his small fire, rake in hand. I slowed down and lowered my window when I went by him and his leaves. All of a sudden I was a little kid again watching my father tend to his fire burning on the street beside the sidewalk. The smell of wood burning brings me back to Ghana. During the harmattan, when the mornings are chilly, the family compound behind my house had smoke whirling into the air from fires lit to keep everyone warm. The smell of that burning wood was almost sweet as it filled the air. Food in Ghana is still cooked on small, round charcoal burners, and the charcoal is still made from wood. Last summer when I smelled the cooking fires I was transported forty years in time to when I lived in a small white duplex and behind my house was a field with a family compound. I can still see and smell the smoke from that compound as it rises into the air. My mother and the smell of sugar cookies baking are forever linked in my memory.

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”

July 25, 2011

Today feels as if I’m living in a new world. It is cool and pleasant with no humidity. Last night I didn’t even need the air-conditioner in my bedroom. The next few days will be the same. I’m thinking I’ll be living on the deck for a while, and I suspect tonight’s outside shower might be just a bit chilly.

We had our movie on the deck last night instead of Saturday. Continuing with our Boston film festival, it was The Departed. What was fun, and I’m not referring in any way to that movie, was recognizing scenes from our Boston movie tour last fall. The best one was where Matt Damon, after a rugby match, was sitting on a bench in the Common looking at the state house. In real life, a statue would have been in the way. That’s movie magic.

I’ve written the start of this paragraph three times and deleted each one. I just wasn’t interested in what I had to say. Twice I got up and did something in between. I cleaned the coffee pot and on my second run I moved around a few things I hide behind the TV set. One of those things was a diffuser, and it got me thinking about smells. I have a few favorites. Cookies baking is one of them. I think of my mother and sugar cookies and Christmas. She made them every year, even when we were adults. They were as much a part of Christmas as were our stockings. Turkey roasting is another smell I love. I can see my mother standing hunched over the turkey bulging out of its pan. It always just fit without any spare space. I remember the baster and how she’d use it to suck up the juice then baste all of the turkey. She used to steal a bit of the stuffing, the crusty part at the end. Burning wood is another favorite smell. It reminds me of Ghana. The Ghanaians used wood charcoal for cooking, and I could smell it all over town when I walked. At night, especially, the smell was pervasive. Women sitting along the side of the road cooked and sold food. I was a frequent visitor to the fried plantain aunty, a polite address for older Ghanaian women. From my deck, I can smell barbecue. It makes me want to invite myself to dinner. My dad is the one I associate with that smell.

If I get forgetful in my old age, I hope a smell will trigger a forgotten memory, especially a memory about someone I dearly loved.


“If things are getting easier, maybe you’re headed downhill.”

March 29, 2011

Today has exactly the same weather as yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Poor Gracie goes out, tries to get comfy on the deck lounge but finds the breeze far too cold and comes back inside. She sits at the front door and lets the sun coming through warm her fur, and she watches the neighborhood but sees very little. When I’m done here, we’re going for a ride down cape. Maybe that will remove the ennui the weather is causing the both of us.

When I was a little kid, very little grossed me out. I’d see classmates picking their noses and checking out their finds, but I won’t even describe but some them did with their bounties. Once in a while someone would get sick in class, and it was an event to be described over and over at recess. As I grew older, though, my tolerance for the gross disappeared. I’d get car sick on even short trips. At dinner once, someone’s milk got spilled into a plate of spaghetti, and that sent me running to the bathroom. It was Ghana which finally cured me.

I remember going into a market for the first time. The stalls in front sold goat patties for fuel and they didn’t smell all that great. I ran outside to be sick. I was embarrassed, but I was stuck with a sensitive stomach. That lasted about two more weeks. I stopped noticing the smells. Some, like wood charcoal burning, became a favorite smell, a sweet one which still never fails to bring me back to Ghana. Public toilets, here a term loosely used, could be smelled blocks away. My neighbors in the field behind my house squatted in the millet adding their own fertilizer. I learned to aim perfectly at the hole in the public toilet and to squat when forced by necessity. When I visited Morocco, my skill returned quickly. I figured it was like riding a bike, something you just don’t forget.

I am going to Ghana in late August. I have the dates and am hunting for a flight which won’t exhaust my bank account. I figure it might take me a day or two to get acclimatized to those smells I remember. The one thing I know is my aim is still good.