An Ode to Odor

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I jumped out of my seat screaming, “What’s on fire? What’s on fire? Something’s burning!”

With the tinge of burning rubber screaming up my nose I didn’t like the fact I smelled fire but saw no evidence of it.

My friend, standing behind me was quiet for a moment then in a calm manner spoke matter-of-factly, “Rocky just got skunked.”

Frantically scanning the surroundings for signs of flames while I lifted my laptop thinking maybe it was ready to explode, I realized what she just said and looked down at my dog foaming at the mouth, snorting and shaking his drooling muzzle all over the floor. With the quickest command I have ever given, I pointed my fingers and told him “OUT!” whereupon he ran out his doggie door into the backyard as the rest of the household went howling on about the stench and ran outside the front door.

Can there ever be something viler than the putrid smell of skunk percolating in the air inside a home?

The time I opened up the refrigerator to be slammed upright by the fetid smell of dirty feet curling out of it – my dad’s Limburger fatally left unwrapped on the shelf – doesn’t even come close to the reek that literally hung everywhere, including in our clothes, hair, eyes, and lungs from my over-curious, now odiferous dog.

I figure that evening was an ode to our olfactory system, invading our sense of smell and triggering dry heaves and choice words but nevertheless making for a very colorful interpretation of what was happening around us.

Our sense of smell is so important in so many ways, but never really considered a point to ponder. Consider the glorious smell of coffee wafting through the doors of a favorite shop when entered, only to re-emerge double-latte in hand, tasting and smelling its wonderful odor, uplifted not only by the power of caffeine but with the power of smell.

The world of eating would turn dull and listless if it weren’t for the scents that stimulate the appetites and make the mouth water.  But as was evident in my reaction, smell can also alert us to danger such as an overheated pot on a stove or to food that has spoiled and if eaten would bring on an upset stomach.

Our sense of smell represents one of the oldest modalities present in mammals. It is directly linked to the limbic system and connects smell with emotions. Some deep memories or a sense of being can only be recalled by a whiff from the nose. I need only walk by a dish holding a bar of Dove face soap and suddenly I’m at my grandmother’s home a child again wrapped in her warm love, the sensation as real as the day I lived it.

I would surely die a little if my sense of smell disappeared, for the world would certainly drop in dimension as if it were only a picture in a book, a prominent hollow feel about it forever locked out from the sensory that could unleash a thousand moments from a single fragrance.

But how does one exercise the sense of smell? By using it and being aware. Describe a smell. Blindfold the eyes and have a friend hold various items under your nose (friends, be nice….) and try to identify the smells. This is a skill used to describe aromas in wine, coffee, tea and beer.

Avoid mucous forming foods, such as milk, cheese, and ice cream that congest the membranes in the nose and therefore dull the ability to smell. Humidity increases moisture in the nose, so a humidifier in the home can improve the sense of smell.

A decreased sense of smell is often linked with a deficiency in the mineral zinc. Eat zinc-rich foods like lentils, sunflower seeds and pecans and consider a multi-vitamin that has at least 7 mg of zinc each day.

But my favorite way is to get up in the wee hours of the morning before the sun decides to rise into the grey dawn, the dew hanging low on the branches lifting the smell of sage and seawater all around me. I breathe deep and long, savoring the sweet and salty tingle in my nose … then bow in reverence to the mighty skunk’s odorant soliloquy I never want to encounter again.

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