We’ve had lots of rain this week – the remnant of a tropical storm that started passing us about three days ago and is now the tail ends of it cause occasional showers and thunderstorms. It’s been lovely, as far as I’m concerned. I miss having rain more frequently than every 3-6 months!
One thing about rain is the smell of it. Who’d think that water falling from the sky could have a scent to it, but then, maybe it’s the scent of dry earth being touched lightly by water or plants that send their fragrances into the air when touched by precipitation. Rain brings a clean smell while salt air has a tang to it. Fresh-cut grass has a scent of its own, and even dust can have a particular smell. There’s a kind of signature about the smell of rain; once you learn its scent, it’s as distinctive as a rose.
It would be a very dull world without smells. Without it, food would have no taste, since much of what we perceive as “tasty” is not totally a function of the taste buds on our tongues. Without our noses to smell, we are basically limited to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Add a nose, and a couple of unimpaired areas of the brain, and the combinations multiply infinitely.
My adoptive father lost his sense of smell in an accident. He could tell which of the basic four tastes was which, but that was all. Yet to the end of his days, he would not eat a piece of apple pie without an accompanying slice of cheddar cheese because, as he put it, he didn’t “think it would taste right” without it. It amused us no end, but he was entirely serious. He had eaten his apple pie that way all his life until that point, so why change just because he could not physically taste it? I think of the last time I had a severe cold. It was hard to feel hungry because I could not taste anything. I remembered something I had read about how to get sick pets to eat, so I tried the same thing – I added some pungent garlic to my food, and suddenly, I was not only hungry but enjoying what I ate. That sense of smell made all the difference.
Smells are important, not only for telling us what is good to eat and what is not but also as a trigger for memories, both good ones and bad. Things like apple pies or bread baking are not just pleasant but often bring back memories of special times. Sometimes real estate agents encourage sellers to have one or the other cooking in the oven when the house is being shown to prospective buyers as a kind of encouragement to think of the house as warm, welcoming, and homey. Maybe it works, I don’t know. I know I love the smells of a wood fire, even if I can’t feel the heat or hear the popping and crackling of the burning process. I enjoy the scents of rosemary and lavender, sugar cookies baking, hyacinths, salt air, and even the neighbor’s Chinese food (with lots of garlic) cooking.
I like the smell of incense too. Nothing beats the scent of a high holy day like having a swinging thurible and puffs of smoke coming from incense burning on hot coals inside it. It’s a reminder of incense burned in the temple as a sacrifice or to represent prayers rising to the heavens in some other faiths as well as some Christian denominations. Native Americans often use burning sage to cleanse and purify a designated area. Hindus and Buddhists use incense as gifts to the gods and to carry their prayers upward. Beeswax candles have a subtle but clean fragrance that lingers after the flames are extinguished. I feel a sense of loss when I see oil candles on the altar and as the Paschal candle. They may be more economical, but I miss the fragrance of beeswax.
This week will be a busy one for our senses of smell. Pumpkin and apple pies, fresh bread, turkey stuffing, the tang of cranberries cooking for sauce (if one is brave enough to try to make it!), and more will be in the air as we prepare for Thanksgiving. Looking beyond, we have the scents of gingerbread, hot cider, sugar and other kinds of cookies, cakes, pies, puddings, fires in the fireplace, coffee and tea brewing, perhaps a smoked ham cooking, Christmas tree resins (or maybe fake Christmas tree sprays), fresh-cut boughs and runners, the tang of cold air – there are so many scents to look forward to. The weather may be severe and treacherous, but somehow the fragrances of the holidays cheer us up even if just a little.
Perhaps it sounds silly, but I need to remember to thank God for giving me a reasonable sense of smell so that I can enjoy the smell of the rosemary bush I brush past as I go to get into my truck, the scent of rain, the delicious anticipation of good food cooking, the comfort of natural wood fires on the hearth, and the faint recollection of the scents of the church during the holidays. It’s enough to make my heart lighter, despite the lengthening of the nights and the chill of the air this time of year.
Come to think of it, I should thank God for the candles, colored lights, sounds of music of centuries past, and the taste of seasonal foods (and everyday food as well). I think this year, I’ll have to have a piece of apple pie with a sliver of cheddar cheese for Daddy. I’ll thank God for memories that are evoked by things I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch because they are gifts that give the world dimension and texture. It would be a very dull, bland world without them.
Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.
Image: Freedom from Want, oil painting by Norman Rockwell (1942). Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. Her three domestic partners ensure she is kept busy with petting, feeding, and general housekeeping duties in exchange for purrs and occasional cat-kisses.