Sunday, September 11, 2011


I think the sense of smell is underrated sometimes. When you think about it, most of our recreational activities involve one of the other senses: we READ books, we LISTEN to music, we MAKE things, we EAT as a means to enjoy good food and fellowship. Rarely, though, do we exercise our sense of smell for recreational purposes. No smelling parties, no smelling clubs... As a result, we tend to overlook the sense of smell or think of it as somehow less important.

Yet, out of all of our senses, it may be the sense of smell that is most closely tied to memory. Certainly no other sense has the ability to transport us back across the years and across space to a specific instant, a particular moment in our lives. It's the olfactory nerve that does this--the nerve that carries signals picked up by our sense of smell to the brain, interestingly enough, is only two synapses away from the amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotion and emotional memory). The result is a fairly strong link between what we smell, and what we remember.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I walked back to school from the eki after church. It had rained at some point in the hour before, and so the ground was wet and there was that refreshing scent in the air--the one that almost always accompanies rain in the city. However, as I walked into the school plaza, right past the ramp up to the auditorium, a very strong sensation hit me. I caught the aroma of what seemed to be honey and earth--a very sweet, rich, full smell. BAM! Just like that, I was in the back field of my family's farm in Northwest Washington, the same sweet smell washing over me. The Cottonwood tree--the "balm of Gilead" tree, whose leaves gain a distinctive honey smell as they turn color and then drift to the ground.

Just as quickly as the moment came, I was back in the city, looking at leaves plastered on the ground by the rain. It had been such a strong, overwhelming feeling of familiarity... I simply stood and breathed in the pleasant scent for several minutes. I said a short prayer, thanking God for such cool moments and then went inside. I used my other senses quite a lot as I prepared for the coming week of school and as I ate my dinner, and slowly my sense of smell faded into the background in my mind. However, I could not forget that moment. We can skype with family and friends across the ocean, see and hear people and places that are thousands of miles away, but no other sense can simply pick us up and drop us somewhere else like the sense of smell can. We truly are fearfully and wonderfully made.

No comments:

Post a Comment