Heightened Senses: Smells (Part 1)

There’s a popular theory that when one of your senses is diminished, the other four (let’s call them four for now, but we can debate this later) are heightened, accentuated, incalculably brightened in some way. So I’ll be devoting a series of entries to exploring this phenomenon in completely un-medical terms, as it relates to me. I can’t really say how my low vision makes these sensory enhancements work – so I’ll focus instead on a qualitative delivery of the experience of living with the senses I have.

Today it’s smells, especially smells I love. I’ll give you a few examples. When a smell reaches my nose that I absolutely love, I feel the urge to tilt my head back and imbibe the air. I find myself compulsively smelling the item, if it’s close enough to hold, or wanting to compulsively smell it, if it’s not close enough. Here are some places where the smells make me weak at the knees.

The glorious thing about having low vision is that most smells surprise you; you can’t see the smelliferous object approaching, so its aroma greets you sometimes gently and sometimes with terrifying vigor – but always surprisingly. Even if I’m walking past a place whose smell I love and I know perfectly where I am, there’s no guarantee that the wind will bring me that glorious aroma!

At the grocery store, there are two areas in particular that get to me – one is seasonal (a fleeting pleasure!) and the other, thankfully, mercifully, is not. The first is the cinnamon broom display at Publix. The most delightful thing about this particular sensation is that I inevitably forget that I will experience it. I enter the store, get distracted by the metallic rustlings of the shopping carts, and start rummaging for my grocery list. Then the cart glides forward — I prefer to push the card while my shopping companion steers by leading it from the front – and I begin to be accosted by smells. Flowers, bakery items, and generic clean building smells are the first, and they’re totally unremarkable. Then we’ll round a corner and somehow, some fortuitous puff of air will send the cinnamon broom smell sailing in my direction. And I want to grip the cart and tilt my head back and smell it, forever. The scent is punchy and potent; it zips through the air with a terrible ferocity. It slices through all the other smells and makes me stop and tune out the rest of my environment. I want to ignore everyone, turn off my ears, close my eyes, and experience SMELL all by itself. Cinnamon broom. Exquisite.

I have one hanging in my apartment now and the smell has worn off. This makes my chance encounters with the c-broom display at Publix so wonderful. No cinnamon broom in the home could ever smell like one in the store. I expect it at home.

The other sense-stopping aroma at Publix can be found in the produce section. So much of grocery store produce is lackluster, deficient in smell and color compared with the fruits and veggies from a farmers’ market or organic store. But the apples! the apples! I entice my shopping companion to read me all the varieties, asking mildly which are on sale, all the while thinking, Please say fujis! Please say honeycrisps! Oh lord, galas! And if these favored varieties aren’t $3.29/lb, I start to examine them.

I pick up an apple, turning it over and over in my hands and feeling for blemishes. I don’t want to fall in love with an apple’s particular perfume only to discover that it’s dented, squishy, or discolored. Then I smell it! And that floral, crisp, inviting aroma lifts me off my feet. I can’t fight down the sighs here. Especially when it comes to the honeycrisps, I can’t refuse. My desire to smell apples is insatiable, and I think it has something to do with the timbre of the smell – if I can apply that musical word here. Predominantly, the apple smell is a light one, light, riding on the air, not heavy or weighty like some of the more showy, succulent fruit smells. Apples don’t smell like peaches – when you smell a peach, you smell the whole tree – flowers, roots and all. A peach smells like all of its components – its aroma is thick with juice and sunshine. But apples smell light and crisp, like themselves – they lack the earthy dampness of peaches. The apple smell is an easy intoxicant because it doesn’t weigh you down. I could smell apples for hours.

The third contender in my particular scent rundown is the smell of woodsmoke and campfires. I love the afternoons when I walk outside and I can smell someone heating up a grill. I’m not talking about the delicious barbecue smell here – I’m talking about the pre-barbecue smell. And in winter, the smell of a fireplace has extra special allure. I once sat around a campfire with some friends on a winter evening, wearing a turquoise hoodie (since we Floridians are so ill-equipped to handle the cold) and the campfire smell seeped into my clothes. I remember smelling the sleeve of my hoodie all the way home. I don’t think I washed it for a month. I didn’t even continue to wear it – I would just pick it up from time to time.  And of course, smell it!

Campfires and warm, smoky aromas draw me in. I find them infinitely inviting. This does not include the acrid smells of cigarettes or the sickly sweet funk of hookahs. I restrict my smoky preferences to the woodsy, green scents. However, I will grant special admittance to smoked paprika and lapsang souchong tea (a black tea whose leaves are dried and smoked). The tea especially smells like campfire heaven.

I could go on for pages, but I’ll stop here. Suffice it to say that there are way more interesting and fantastic smells out there to stop and enjoy. Forget the roses!

(Don’t really forget them. Just save them for later. I’ll do an entry on flower smells I love in the future.)

2 thoughts on “Heightened Senses: Smells (Part 1)

  1. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your
    blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts.
    In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write
    again very soon!

  2. Hi, Frieda! Thanks for your encouragement! I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! I’ve got another entry in the works; it should be up soon!

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