Writing Exercise: Follow the Scent

Our kitchen smells like camping. The dishes have all been washed and re-packed, the tent aired out, the tarp dried, the sleeping bags separated, rolled and stuffed. All that’s left now is to put everything back on the shelves in the pantry where it will live until the next time. In the meantime, however, it all sits piled in the corner chairs and stacked neatly on the block table, emitting the lingering aroma of camp smoke, pine needles, and dirt.

Olfactory memory … is that what it’s called? We smell something and it triggers thoughts of a time or place or person or event. It can be quite powerful. There is a very distinct smell that rises from the industrial rubber flooring often installed in institutional stairwells; the stuff with the molded circles to prevent slipping that comes in all colors. It gives an off an odor that never fails to remind me of a library, specifically the stacks of my college library. Despite the fact that I actually work in a library every day, it’s that smell that brings to mind the comfort of such a place to me much more than the sights and the sounds and, heaven forbid, the work.

So I leave my vacation behind today and go back to work. We pack up the campsite, leave the slow pace and the quiet behind, return the gear to the shelves, and I return to the world that I share with other people, not just the inhabitants of nature. I feel the anxiety already. But before heading out the door, I think I’ll brush my sleeve against stuff bags one last time, to carry the smell – and all of the memories it evokes – with me through the day.

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