You Smell

One of the best things about get up and out really early in the morning is that you are able to get a head full of relatively unsullied air.

The early morning tang that hits you as you first open the door is always just a little different depending on the season, temperature and weather. That first whiff can sometimes instantly transport me to a very, very specific moment in the past. Not necessarily an important moment – just an ordinary day that was evoked by the ordinary scent of fog on a warm spring morning or the mulchy perfume of autumn leaves on a frosty dawn or the crisp aroma of an impending snow storm or the heavy, languid air of a summer’s morning fragrant with a lingering bouquet of odors from the night before.

Look how many different words we have for “smell”. Those in the preceding paragraph are just the words for good smells. There are also stinks and stenches and reeks and pongs (like when your partner stuffs your head under the duvet).

Our sense of smell plays such a big part of our daily lives without us even being aware of it. Did you know it helps humans assimilate with nature?  It helps warn us of dangers and sharpens our awareness of other people, places and things. It helps us to respond to those we meet, can influence our mood, how long we stay in a room, who we talk to and who we want to see again.

  • Everyone has his or her own unique odor-identity which is determined by many factors including: our genes, skin type, diet, medicine, mood state and even the weather. No two people have the exact same odor-identity.
  • The average human being is able to recognize approximately 10,000 different odors. It’s possible to train your olfactory sense to a very high degree (I think at least one of my blog readers might be able to speak further on that topic??)
  • Your sense of smell is least acute in the morning; our ability to perceive odors increases as the day wears on. 
  • A woman’s sense of smell is keener than a man’s.

A smell can cause an intense physical reaction, from making you vomit or lose consciousness to bringing you back to consciousness, relieving nausea or headaches. A smell can inspire instant lust or hunger. A smell can attract or repel. What an amazing sense!

No two people smell the same odor the same way. In other words, a rose may smell sweeter to some people than to others. Some of my favourite smells are:

  • Coffee brewing  in the morning (though I can’t stand the taste)
  • A wood-burning fire on a cool autumn day
  • Laundry that’s been drying out in the sun
  • A just-picked, ripe tomato
  • A clean baby
  • The air during and after a thunder storm
  • A charcoal barbeque grilling food (even meat… except pork. The smell of cooking pork makes me gag)
  • Some types of pipe tobacco
  • Fog
  • A forest in the fall
  • The brine of the ocean
  • A whiff of lilacs (bring them in and they start to get cloying after a while)
  • Mulled wine in December
  • An apple orchard in blossom
  • A field of lavendar
  • And, a field of freshly spread, well-aged manure…
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32 responses to “You Smell

  1. pretty much every thing smells good to me except for poop.

    Especially puppy poop.

    I have been told that I constantly smell like sex however but I blame that on IVORY SOAP.

  2. Lebowski- Everything except poop?How about puke or a rotting carcass or those potatoes you forgot about in your pantry or Lake Ontario after a good rainfall or a really fat sweaty guy who hasn’t changed his shirt in a month? And you were one of the people I had hoped could elaborate on how to refine your olfactory sense.

  3. COMPARING NOTES –
    “Coffee brewing in the morning” – absolutely. But then, I drink it.

    “A wood-burning fire on a cool autumn day” – Wood burning is great, but sometimes people burn green wood, and it’s very sharp. Also, for me, freshly cut wood (having built and renovated a little over the years) often makes me wish I made my living as a carpenter, but then I wonder if you just become immune to it if you’re around it every day.

    “Laundry that’s been drying out in the sun” – I used to hang my clothes on the line back in Nova Scotia AFTER I had dried them in the dryer, just to get the smell.

    “A just-picked, ripe tomato” – amazing, yes.

    “A clean baby” – doubly so…and not just their heads, but their heads are pretty special.

    “The air during and after a thunder storm” – also the earth – the grass, in particular.

    “A charcoal barbeque grilling food” – for me, it’s the smell of grilled green and red peppers in olive oil being blackened on a barbecue. Wonderful.

    “Some types of pipe tobacco” – not so much.

    “Fog” – on the ocean, in my old backyard in Nova Scotia, yes, but it was mostly the smell of the ocean being carried by the fog.

    “A forest in the fall” – deciduous leaves dying, and coating the forest floor.

    “The brine of the ocean” – see ‘fog’.

    “A whiff of lilacs (bring them in and they start to get cloying after a while)” – I had lilac trees – four of them – in my backyard in Hamilton, and I agree – the blooms must be left outdoors, or they overwhelm.

    “Mulled wine in December” – apple cider for me.

    “An apple orchard in blossom” – um – apple cider for me.

    “A field of lavendar” – you lost me here. ;-)
    …and isn’t it lavender? or is this something different?

    “And, a field of freshly spread, well-aged manure” – Well -horse manure, maybe – but only maybe. I find cow, chicken, sheep – and especially pig manure – disgusting. Horse, however, ages pretty well – as far as poop goes – but I wouldn’t go out of my way looking for it.

    The only one I’m adding to your list, which is my own unique and weird one – is a brand new puppy’s breath.
    Love it.

  4. A smell I miss is the scent of a fresh mimeographed worksheet in elementary school. You post stirred up that memory…that smell is very rare now!

  5. I love the smell of wood burning (as long as it isn’t coming from one of the many fires we get in our part of the world this time of year). I love the smell of fall—that cool, crisp air smell transports me back to my childhood. I love the smell of coffee, of simmering spaghetti sauce, of fresh-cut roses from my yard. And like missy, I love the smell of puppy breath.

  6. i love sniffing babies and clothes that were outside.

    a smell i love actually is the smell you get when you have washed your floors with pine sol and light a smoke. leave the house for a min then come back.

    that combo right there is what i love.

    sounds gross right?

    its how my Grannys house always smelled tho :)

  7. Nobody said the smell of bread. What about the smell of freshly baked bread? What about the smell of freshly baked pastry that lures me into the The French Baker on Murray Street early on a Sunday morning.

  8. I love the smell of coffee, though like you I hate the taste.

    I am an unabashed sniffer. Especially of people. I love to bury my nose in Mr. Jazz’s neck and get a whiff of him. His smell is wonderfully calming to me.

  9. My grandfather used to smoke a particular brand of pipe tobacco, and I get nostalgice whenever I smell it. Strange when you think he died when I was 5. Reading this made me think of him

    Funny though, I opened the door this morning, all I did was sneeze. ;)

  10. JB – LavendEr – yes, thank you. I was very sloppy and I deserve be be punished. The manure thing, I meant nice cow or horse manure from animals that had been fed on sweet hay and grass and other good stuff and then aged. Chicken, pig and fresh manure stink. The smell of apple cider or even apple juice makes me feel nauseous.

    Missy – Man, how old ARE you? I barely remember those, but I do remember everyone sniffing them because they smelled like fresh baked bread. Now no one knows what fresh baked bread is supposed to smell like because most bakeries smell all weird and unlike real bread

    Mo – Ya, it was JB who likes puppy breath and he’s a stickler for accuracy so I thought I’d better mention it. I’m not sure what that smells like, but I agree with your other choices. Really, anything yummy cooking smells good — until you’ve eaten it, then the lingering smell starts to make you feel sick. Funny isn’t it?

    Jobthingy – Pinesol and cigarette, eh? Both of those can make me actually and physically ill in close quarters, so I don’t reckon I’ll be visiting Granny any time soon.

    Skylark – I think it’s because (like I said to Missy) there isn’t a lot of good fresh bread being baked these days. The smell of that crap they bake in the grocery stores isn’t too appealing and that horrible smell that wafts around Subway shops (that pride themselves on their “fresh baked buns”) is enough to turn anyone off the smell of “bread”. I’ve only been in the French Baker a couple of times and each time it was late in the day and baking had long been done and eaten. Do you know if they use French flour? I’ve been meaning to ask them

    Jazz – Do you just sniff Mr. Jazz or other people, too? Would you recognize him if you were blindfolded and had to pick him out of a line-up of 10 other men?

    Nat – Amazing how smell can memory last such a long time — sometimes it’s the only thing left that you really remember about a person or an event in the past.

  11. Add to that list newly mown grass. I take long deep breaths, then sneeze several times and rub my eyes. But it is so worth it for the smell. And opening the windows to fresh spring air to to cleanse out the stale winter air inside the house.

    Am not sure about any manure, though.

  12. Dave – Oh boy a new word!! I had to look it up to get its origin. It’s Greek from petros meaning stone and ichor meaning all sort of weird oozy, watery things (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichor). Thanks. It’s not a smell I can recall right now, but next time it happens I’ll be sure to think of it in these terms

    Violetsky – I used to have to cut 2 acres of grass every Saturday growing up, so fresh cut grass ain’t such a delight to my schnozz. Fresh air is always good, though — no matter what the season. My windows are always open.

  13. We had neighbours growing up whose house smelled horrible! Have no idea why. You could smell it from the sidewalk and it was the normal amount back. They smeeled like their house but only faintly. Still to this day my family wonders what the smells were.

    Yes, Geordie is pronounced Jordie! My husbands grandmother was a Geordie…google it! ;)

  14. I am not a fan of odors, as my sense of smell is very strong (my eyes, ears and tongue are also very sensitive). I recently had the misfortune of purchasing a multi-pack of Ivory soap (heads up, Lebowski!) which was very discreetly marked as being scented with Lavender. It offended my nose upon opening–without even using it.

    So much for 99 44/100% pure!

    – RG>

  15. I deeply enjoyed the scent of an ex-boyfriend. A friend helped me describe it as a mixture of oranges, coca-cola, dirt, a Coastal Rhododendron and well worn sweaters.

    I also like: afternoon in the spring, freshly printed papers (they smell like melon i swear!), melon, candle smoke, axe body spray (i used to hate it but i’ve gotten accustomed to it because every teenage boy nowadays wears it), and mashed potatoes

  16. I was using a mimeograph as recently as 1989… at a University of all places! Talk about strange… and, yes, it does have a distinctive and not unpleasant odor.

    Right now, virtually everything smells good.

    For quite a while, most things smelled different and many things that normally smelled good to me smelled awful!

    I never went to a doctor for it, though I did mention it on a routine annual physical at work. I was able to identify several odors in a smell test so he really didn’t think there was any issue.

    I think it had to something to do with diet and fitness…, and possibly allergies. I’m not in great shape, but I’m in better shape than I was then and I’m eating better.

    Coffee, popcorn, campfire, fresh air on cool Wisconsin evening.

    Mike — currently on the road, camping near Madison, Wisconsin

  17. I know a girl who has no sense of smell. She can’t even conceptualize what she’s missing in life.

    When I was a kid, we walked past a bakery every day, on the way to and from school. It was the best smell ever. Once in a while, my Mom would give us each a nickel, so we could buy a honey-dipped doughnut on the way home from school.

    Thanks for the trip back in time, XUP.

  18. I love the smell of machines heating up. Recently I walked by the kitchen and said, Yum, what’s that smell? My friend said, a cake, you can smell it already? Turns out the smell I caught was the mixer! Mmm, metal!

  19. Stuffing your partner’s head under the duvet….is that what people I know call a “Dutch Oven?”

    Scent is FOR SURE my strongest emotion/memory trigger of all my senses. A random smell I don’t even realize I’m familiar with can instantly shoot me back in time to any point in my life. 99% of the time it’s a good thing, so I really love this.

    My favorite smell in the world is the way The Porcupine smells. Not his cologne or his soap or his laundry. Just the way his skin smells. I also love the smell of vanilla (hence part of my obsession with vanilla lattes) and the smell of gardenias, because this has always been my mom’s favorite scent and it reminds me of her. I also love the smell of my cat’s fur – which to me smells oddly just like cookie dough.

  20. Forgot to mention –
    When I lived in Nova Scotia, I used to drive past a chocolate factory on the way to and from work. Quite a heavenly aroma when they were producing / cooking / creating that melted chocolate smell / whatever you want to call it.
    Moirs, the company who introduced Pot Of Gold chocolates to the world, started in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Sadly, they were ‘swallowed up’ by big, bad Hershey and I believe the Dartmouth plant has since closed.
    These days, I drive past the mammoth bakery which makes a massive amount of doughnuts and cake-like products for Southern Ontario Tim Hortons locations. Although I’m not a Tim Hortons customer, the aroma of the products baking in that factory is pretty darn appealing.

  21. I have a crazy keen sense of smell which is odd since I smoke and drink beer all day. My least favorite smell is perfume. About 98% of perfumes hurt my head.
    I have a lot in common with your readers:

    Like MISSY: mimeographed papers from elementary school were a thrill to my nose

    Like Jobthingy: Pine Sol! I just did a post about that smell from the hotel in Santiago, Dominican republic

    Like Jazz: My husband. I love to smell his head. i describe it as smelling like “limes and sunshine.”

    Like VioletSky: Ooooh! I love the smell of fresh mown grass!

    Most people don’t know that our sense of taste is directly linked to our sense of smell. That’s why if your nose is plugged, you can not tell the difference between an apple and a potato. My former step-mother was born with no sense of smell and I always felt sorry for her. She based her food choices on texture. For instance, she preferred hushpuppies to fried shrimp because of the texture. On the other hand, she never got sick or nauseous from a smell. But I would rather be able to smell.

  22. Helen – I had a neighbour whose son was called Geordie. I wondered because it’s not that usual. My daughter had a friend whose house smelled awful, too and the kid smelled awful. Emily went there once for a sleepover and called me at 10:00 to say she felt sick and wanted to come home — she couldn’t stand the smell anymore. And when the kid slept at our place our whole house would smell. Eventually they sold the house and the new people had to completely gut it because it was totally infested with mice and mouse poop — so it was dead mice, mouse nests, mouse poop and everything mouse that was stinking up the place. I mean, there were mice knee deep inside the walls. It was the talk of the neighbourhood.

    RealGrouchy – I have an easily offended nose, too. I’ve eliminated products with smells from my home. It’s not easy. I don’t know why they think we want our homes and ourselves to smell like everything from chemical pine forests to vanilla pudding.

    Aziza – Axe — eeeewwww. It seems to appeal soley to the teenage nose. Interesting. That was some complicated boyfriend you had there and a super uber refined nose on your friend!

    Mike – Well, lucky you on the road in the fresh Wisconsin air while the rest of us toil in our pungent offices. That’s interesting how your sense of smell got all skewed. Did it affect your appetite? I always wonder how people with no sense of smell feel about eating. Can they taste anything?

    Jobthingy – No, that’s cool. Like it said in the post, everyone smells things differently. I’m glad you have something so simple and unique to remember your Granny by. And you have another Pinesol fan in Geewits. You should check out her blog if you haven’t already.

    Bob – Free trip, Bob! And if you’re tempted by this nostaligic visit to go get a honey-dipped donut, I bet you’ll be sorely disappointed. Something in the flour or baking process or something has totally squeezed all the baking goodness out of baked goods — smell, taste and nutritionally.

    Deb – I didn’t think kitchen appliances were supposed to smell when they “heated up”. Sounds a bit dangerous…but as long as it turns you on. Do you deliberately overheat your car in the summer? What a rush, eh?

    Robin – Oh thank you! Another manure lover. Even fresh poo from non-carnivorous animals doesn’t smell too bad; mix it with hay and let it compost for a good long time. Spread it on a field and it smells like nothing else. Of course now farmers are just flinging fresh animal poo on their fields and it gets into the water table and causes e-Coli outbreaks. Can’t leave well enough alone.

    Lesley – Ya! Dutch Oven. Nobody knows what I mean when I say that. And you do!! Ha ha. Anyway, it’s interesting how everyone seems to love the smell of their spouses/partners/. I wonder if it’s because we associate their smell with good things like love and comfort and happiness or if it was their smell that attracted us to them in the first place — maybe on a subconscious level??

    JB – Moirs was still there when I was there, though I believe I did hear they were closing up. I’m not a big chocolate fan, but sometimes, at the right time and place, a whiff of melting chocolate can be lovely. And for Timmy’s, is it the baked goods you’re smelling or the donuts deep frying??

    X – Cold cream? Huh… that’s a new one. Are you from an old theatrical family or something? Reminds you of mom or granny? Or you just randomly like it? Why?

    Geewits – I was just wondering about people with no sense of smell. I can’t imagine it. I guess it’s better than missing one of your other senses, but still — if she was an animal she wouldn’t be able to survive. I hate almost all perfumes too. One thing nice about living in Halifax — they have very strict no scents bylaws so people don’t generally wear perfumes or other scented products. I think you’d like Jobthingy, not just because of the pinesol – you even sort of blog alike. You should check each other out.

  23. Quite simply I know that there are things that don’t smell good so I avoid them – and I never have any foodstuffs in my house especially potatoes.
    Carbs are not good for you.
    Cheez whiz IS!

  24. Jazz – Do you just sniff Mr. Jazz or other people, too? Would you recognize him if you were blindfolded and had to pick him out of a line-up of 10 other men?

    Well I don’t walk around sniffing strangers, I’m not THAt strange.

    As for picking him out blindfolded in a lineup. I don’t know if I could do it (I hope so), but I’d have a helluva lot of fun trying…

  25. I love the dry, faintly spicy smell of my cat’s fur.

    I loved the scent of the man who was to become my husband long before we became romantically involved. Not that I snuffled him a lot, but the occasional hug and whatnot introduced me to his heady scent which I have since become addicted to. He is like a day in the forest- peat and cedar oil and fresh sawdust. Funny how a scent like that can be so attractive, but of course by now, as you referenced, I have that scent all bound to memories and feelings. So my attachment to his scent is certainly stronger than when we first met, but I knew and enjoyed his scent early in the relationship.

    I beg him to leave off cologne so I can enjoy his scent alone, but he thinks I’m a little nuts and seldom complies.

  26. Lebowski – Is this from the latest Canada food guide?

    Jazz- I’ll set it up and give you a call

    Susan – Aw -what a mean guy. Tell him most women prefer the natural scent of a man over some store bought cologne.