Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Smells of the Pacific Northwest and other memorable geographic smells

My brother hooked me up with some music in college by The Young Fresh Fellows "Sounds of the Northwest." The introduction sounded like something from a filmstrip or an old tourist film--with tracks of seagulls, crashing waves and a ferry horn. I loved listening to this while in my Midwest exile, as it reminded me of home.

Today I was reminded of the smells of the Pacific Northwest as my olfactory nerves drifted me toward memories from the years of traversing the lands of the South Puget Sound. The landscaping material known as "beauty bark" sits in huge mounds in my rental complex waiting to be laid out. I smelled the stuff long before I saw it on a walk this morning. I thought of all the smells that I smelled here, different from all the odors of South Dakota and other places in the Midwest.

+ Tacoma Aroma (a distinct and pungent odor, maybe something like "Sex Panther" cologne)
+ A faint smell of the various evergreen trees combined with the dampness after a rain.
+ The air of the Salish Sea, a bountiful combination of sea life and brine--yet not quite as strong as the ocean.
+ The powerful spring blossoms of April and May.
+ Fresh scones from the Puyallup Fair.
+ Fish and clam chowder cooking at Ivar's.
+ The thin coolness of the Alpine air in the Cascades.
+ The powerful smell of hops coming from the many local breweries over the years. In my youth, it was Olympia and Rainier. Now it's Red Hook.

I could live without Tacoma Aroma (it's not as bad as it used to be in the 70's and 80's), but the bark, dampness and evergreen scent takes me to a better place.

I am also reminded of the smells of my Midwest exile:

+ The smell of hog processing at the John Morrell plant in Sioux Falls (aka "The Morrell Smell).
+ The smell of heat, corn and humidity all over East River South Dakota.
+ The smells of harvest time--processing hay, corn, soybeans, wheat and other grains--it almost inspired me to think of whole grain breads and a stew full of vegetables. That smell helped me find joy, exhilaration and relief for finally feeling a chill in the air after 6 months of heat.
+ Manure
+ The overwhelming smell of grasses that go absolutely crazy in the spring after laying dormant all winter.
+ The almost complete lack of odors (outside of manure) during a harsh winter.

The only time I enjoyed the smells of the Midwest was during the harvest time--about an 8-week period where I watched the hard work of people who help provide our food. People worried, celebrated and toiled with passion. I disliked the smells for the most part, and the harvest time almost made up for it. I appreciated those smells, but the smells of the Northwest can never be replaced.

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