Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Nose Knows


This is one of those Florida days where it’s cloudy and windy and intermittently rainy, and when you look outside it seems like the kind of cozy day to stay in with the crockpot and cook something big.

But then you open the door to the porch and dank warm air envelops you.This set me to thinking about smells, which with all the humidity here, have way more heft than they do in New England.

          According to the scientific lab at Google, smells roller skate right through your brain till they hit the olfactory bulb, connected to the amygdala and hippocampus, and this is the reason why a scent can jettison you right into past memories.

          I have several favorite smell triggers:

Pre-catalytic converter exhaust fumes take me both to childhood long summer car trips to grandparents in Oklahoma and to a teenage year in London.   

Once we’d made it to Tulsa, one of my favorite spots was the closet in my uncle’s old room where all his Pogo books had been stored. These were pre-air conditioning days, so now any dry corner of an old house takes me back to sitting on the floor surrounded by those riches of cartoons.

My kids have unknowingly gifted me memory scents. One Christmas my daughter gave me an aerosol room freshener that reminds me powerfully of my grandfather, the one dependable adult in my life. Looking back, I realize he must have worn some kind of lavender after-shave, pretty fancy for a matter-of-fact geologist and former Tennessee farm boy. My son gave me cologne one birthday, and as soon as I’d sprayed it I realized he’d probably chosen it without realizing it was a twin to one I wore years and years ago when he was a little boy.


  1. Yes, smells awake that part of the brain. It's a different pathway to memory. Perfumes remind me strongly if the people who wore them, so long ago!

    Lovely post.

  2. Smells do indeed transport us to other times, other places. Quickly.

  3. I like "old" smells, too. My great grandmother's hand soap. My grandmother's hand cream.

  4. Mention of the pre-catalytic exhaust - that "fragrance" does take me right to a corner in Tours France, lost, wondering how I would find my way. I am there! Amygdala and hippocampus do carry the load don't they! Sapolski's lectures have always been fascinating particularly about that area of the brain.

  5. I spent so much time stuffed up with hayfever there aren't many smells that can take me anywhere. Smoky wood fires do make me remember the times we spent in the kitchen holding pieces of bread on long sticks to toast them over the fireplace.

  6. It's interesting that your son gave you a scent you'd worn many years before -- some part of his animal brain remembered it, for sure!

  7. Smells and music...both take us back in time and reignite various brain neurons.


Thanks for stopping by and I'd love to hear what you think.