Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Lingering Smell of Spring

I associate seasons with moments, and I almost always associate those moments with smells. The sense of smell is powerfully connected with memory, such that catching a whiff of a certain smell can bring back the memory associated with it in full, visceral force. This is what spring smells like to me.

The smell of hyacinths and lilacs is the smell of Easter when I was a little girl. In my memory, the day was always fresh and bright, and I went to church wearing my new dress and hat, and white patent leather Mary Janes with lacy white socks.

The smell of fresh cut grass is the smell of my dad working in the yard while listening to baseball games on AM radio. That combination of smell and sound is still one of the safest things in the world to me.

The smell of mulch is the smell of college, and the boy I loved then.

While not a smell specific to spring, the smell of Pampers Swaddlers always means spring to me. It is the smell of the first weeks of E's life, late spring almost 3 years ago, when everything was perfect and beautiful and nothing could convince me otherwise. Sometimes, in Target, I stop to smell the Swaddlers, and I feel all the possibility and promise of spring, and that tiny new life.

It takes time for the smell of something to cement itself as an association in my mind. Spring here is almost garish, bursting into bloom overnight, and smells are everywhere. This time in my life doesn't have a smell yet, but I know it will. I wonder what the moment of watching E learn to ride a bike will smell like 10 years from now, when he is thirteen and wants nothing to do with me. When I am driving that sullen teenager to the mall or soccer practice, what smell will I catch a whiff of and be back in the moment of watching my little boy on his tiny red bike?

What does spring smell like to you? What memories are associated with those smells?


  1. Such a great post!

    So this isn't spring related BUT I can't smell Obsession by Calvin Klein without thinking of freshman year of high school -- and remember my feminist, liberating moment of finally deciding that I like the smell so much, I would wear it myself!

    PS. A dorky medical fact: The olfactory nerve, that brings our sense of smell to our brain, goes right by a part of the brain that carries memory and emotion (hippocampus and limbic system). Which is why it IS such a great emotional memory inducer.

  2. @ Alex, I remember the smell of Obsession so was the scent all the "cool" girls in my school wore. Not being cool myself, I didn't, but it completely brings back memories of that time.

  3. For me, spring is magnolias and blueberry muffins. My mom's kitchen. Mmmmmmmmmm.

  4. Spring is much more visual than olfactory for me, which is weird, because I'm not a very visual person normally. It reminds me of getting married, 4 years ago in the Virginia springtime, of house-hunting, of savoring the last days with my med school friends. Fall, on the other hand is full of olfactory memories.

  5. Everything about this is beautiful, from Easter and yard work to young love and tiny new love and imagining the scent of memories to come. Love it.
    Frozen ground, ice and snow don't have a smell for me, bu I always feel spring coming on when I step outside and smell dirt and rain. Now it's mostly wild plum blossoms - which, fingers crossed, should mean enough plums for canning jelly in August.

  6. Hi Jamie - This is a beautiful reflection on something I think about often: the power of sense memory. Especially resonant for me was your Pampers Swaddlers reference. My younger son will be one at the end of the month and that particular smell exemplified spring and new life for me last year. The other smell I most associate with spring is the scent of the sunscreen in the moisturizer I start to use once the sun starts to peak out after the long Midwestern winter.

  7. Jamie,
    It's funny that Pampers reminds you of the beginning of E's life. Feist's album, *The Reminder* does that to me. (Especially the song 1234. It was playing when we arrived home from the hospital.)

    As far as the smell of spring.... Sauvignon Blanc and hyacinths do it for me.