The Power of Smells

Julia - Ames, Iowa
Entered on January 11, 2009
Age Group: Under 18

I believe in smells. I believe in the power of, quite simply, smelling. This is an extraordinary sense. Smells are both delicate and overwhelming. Some are fleeting whispers and others persist for years on end. I can walk around with my eyes closed so I cannot see, and tighten my hands into tight fists so I cannot feel, and plug up my ears so I cannot hear. However, I can never live and breathe without experiencing smell.

Indeed, smells are everywhere. Gardens and kitchens, skunks and roses and dandelions, rain, summer, and night. New books smell different than old, dusty ones, but both smell satisfying. There are subtle fragrances and gentle aromas. There are pungent odors and sharp, stinging stenches. Indeed, everything smells. Taking the time to note the thousands upon thousands of different scents really takes no time at all.

Earlier this year I was walking along the side of a road when I passed by a pool of water in the grass nearby. It had rained in record amounts that spring, and so the water was old and dirty, and it smelled a murky, marshy sort of smell. As soon as that odor reached my nose, I was no longer walking along Stange Road. I was in my Grandpa’s old front yard, standing by his pond. I not only smelled the stale water but felt the sogginess of the mud and grass squelching between my bare toes. I could feel the hot summer sun on my face and see the old white house and rows of trees out back.

Only a few weeks after this incident, I entered an unfamiliar bathroom. It was old and rudimental, and as soon as I walked through the swinging door I was in my Grandpa’s old bathroom on the main floor, past the kitchen. I have no idea what created that specific smell, but it was something in the old vinyl floors and cracked leather couch and bare plumbing that flung me all the way to Hicksville, Ohio. I did not know the smell was cemented so strongly in my mind until that day.

And so I believe in the importance of smell–not just in smells but in the act of embracing stinks and odors and scents. Opossum feces is quite possibly the most foul stench I have ever come across in my life–I get a strong whiff and immediately begin to gag–but now I have a trusted way of knowing when one of those tricky marsupials is hiding out in my garage. Too many people ignore smells, or only notice when flowers or brownies are shoved underneath their noses. Smells have the power to warn me of something evil, to transport me to a different time and place, and to remind me of places I forgot I loved. This is a beautiful and undeniable truth about