Making Sense of Scent

April 20, 2015 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (0)

 


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More than occasionally I wonder whether or not I’m part dog.

Actually, scratch that.

More than occasionally I wonder whether or not I’m more dog than human.

It’s not just that several years ago I made a tectonic shift in my life, bending my career trajectory away from the J-O-B-ness of working in Silicon Valley in favor of saturating my life with all things canine. The sense of scent as a linchpin of how I view the world came long before that.

When a puppy is born, the only sense it has is smell. A newborn puppy is blind, cannot hear, is immobile and its entire experience of the world rushes in through its teensy, yet nerve-ending-lined nostrils, shaping its knowledge of the space and things by which it’s surrounded. As other senses come on line, smell remains one of the most (if not the most) powerful connectors for canines. It’s how they let others know they’ve been there, it’s how they greet each other and it’s how they get a sense of the energy (fear, happiness, excitement) in their world.

I recall a moment clearly from my childhood when I came home after school and asked my mother if my dad had come home during the day. Raising a brow, she glanced at me and said that he had and asked how I knew. It was simple. The scent of his after shave hung clearly in the air as if he’d just walked through the room, an olfactory marker of his presence.

To me, smells have a texture, they have color, they have energy – something distinctly more powerful than just a wafting aroma. Smells tell stories, remind me of places I’ve been, people I’ve known and act as an invisible bridge to all the parts of my life. There was that time I met someone online. We had a great banter via email and text. We had some great conversations on the phone. Then we met in person, and on drawing close to say hello the aromatic advance of her perfume stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t the perfume itself (in fact it was a scent that I knew) but somehow it just didn’t sit right. I let that slide, not wanting to “judge” and figuring that since we had such a great connection in the virtual world that I’d get over the scent thing.

I was wrong.

If someone just doesn’t “smell right”, I’ve learned to trust that instinct. When someone’s scent draws me in, I pay attention to that too.

Turns out there’s a reasonable set of data to back this up. Of all our senses, smell has the deepest imprint and allows us to recall memories otherwise potentially lost to our consciousness.

Today I sit in my office, grinding away at some super stressful stuff and am surrounded by an incredibly comforting aroma. On Friday afternoon while I was out doing some errands for work, I got a text from a dear friend who’d stopped by Hydrant Club to say hi. She said she was sorry to miss me, but had left something for me. When I walked into my office, the first thing that struck me was it felt like she was still in the room – the lingering scent that reminds me of her gently held in the air. On the chair by my desk, a bag with a perfectly paired lotion and bath gel – in an aroma that I adore. What’s funny is that it’s a scent she also wears that lays so differently on each of us. Having had a stressful week the mere scent in the breeze felt like a hug … the presence of a friend who never fails to remind me how comforting it is when there is someone in the world who sees you for who you are.

 
 

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