A couple of weeks ago I walked into the backyard and thought, It smells like spring! It took me a few minutes to realize that what I was smelling were the blossoms on the macadamia tree. The aroma isn't flowery at all - it's more fresh and green and new. You know: spring.
Which started me thinking about all the smells that put us in mind of something else.
What's that smell we call 'snow?' It's unmistakable, even here in the southland. Whenever I smell it, it snows in the mountains looming over my town so I know it's real. It smells cold and a little wet and...snowy. And it comes in on the wind.
Then there's the scent of rain. That one has a different smell in the city than it does in the country. City-rain smells slightly acrid, like pavement and motor-oil; but it's mixed with a good dose of grass and leaves washed clean. Country-rain smells like wet dirt and chamomile.
Fresh-mown grass is the smell of summer afternoons; star-jasmine is a Southern California summer evening. Eucalyptus and dust are the scents of summer heat, an aroma that sends me to my computer to write feverishly. I've tried simulating that smell with candles to ward off writer's block, but it has to be the real thing.
Carnations: funerals. Chalk-dust: school starting in the fall. Coffee: Sunday mornings and the New York Times crossword puzzle. Pine: mountain roads.
Leaves mulching on a forest floor have a rich, damp, slightly spicy scent which also makes me think of mosquitos. The beach smells like coconut oil, kelp, and the damp salt-air that rolls in with the surf. Barns smell of hay and motor oil and manure. Hospitals - well, we all know about that hospital scent, and most of us find it creepy and unpleasant.
Smells are powerful memory aids, mood setters, data providers. Next time you find yourself sniffing the air, wondering if you need an umbrella, remember to heed what your nose is telling you. Because your nose knows.