Friday, February 16, 2007

nostalgic supersniffer

if you know me well at all, you know i'm a sniffer. i find myself sniffing soap, grapefruit, shirts, people, books, calculators, tape, rocks,'s one of the ways i understand and experience the world around me...which is why i like my immediate environment clean, if not from clutter, at least from grime. that way i can touch and sniff any surface without fear of unexpected yuckiness. whenever i move into a new place, i have to clean every surface myself before i feel totally comfortable inhabiting it. i'll rattle around in the center of rooms without coming into full contact with cabinets or barefooting the floors until i've ascertained their purity. after i scour the crevices for someone else's dirt, i accept those dark corners as my own.
partially due to fear of treading on some unsuspecting cockroach or poisonous centipede, i spent the first month in my japanese house with my toes curled away from any parts of the floor i couldn't see. bit by bit, my toes got more comfortable as i claimed more and more of the house with bucket and scrub brush. now i feel like i know what's happening in all its recesses. i've finally located and rid myself of all the molding trash and heaps of junk my predecessor left for me. (which was no small task, considering the complicated rules that govern the sorting and throwing away of rubbish.)
i invest a lot of confidence in my sense of smell. if i give some past-date yoghurt or meat a serious once-over whiff, and i don't sense anything malodorous, i will risk eating it. if there's the slightest questionable scent--straight to the trash.
what i started out to say in the first place, though, is that being a sniffer has its own little delights. as they say, smell is the sense most connected to memory, and having a particularly good sense of smell brings so many memories. i love, for instance, lighting matches. first, there's the satisfying sandpapery scrape of the match head against the striking surface. and then that rush of air/firework takeoff sound as the fire gasps and explodes to life. smell one: sharp, sulfury gunpowder. the flame mellows out and begins consumption of little stick. smell two: heat and burning wood and sap. then it gets close to your fingertips and you blow out that little flame before it burns them. smell three: sweet wood smoke. altogether it has the smell of a campfire: a tiny little handheld campfire. so each time i light a match, i'm reminded of all the times i've made fires outdoors in fresh air with my mom or friends; that whole-body-in-sun caught-in-time relaxed feeling that you get when you marinate in the heat of a fire; the dark and chill gathered around, watching you laugh and burn marshmallows.
the world is waking up again, so my nose has been treated to a lot of new smells in the past week. we've had a good rain, and it often smells like the water-permeated, green, mossy washington state, where i lived for five years. the sun shines on yellowed, dried grass that cracks the pavement and smells like fields in colorado, where i was born. the early early wild narcissus that smells undeniably like the garden's tender spring.
at last.

1 comment:

  1. I am definitely a sniffer, too.
    My sniffing is less poetic though, and usually leads me into malodorous traps; e.g. Stanley's mothball-scented towels, bad food in tupperware, and rancid Japanese bathrooms. My sense of smell is so powerful that I often start breathing through my mouth long before I think I might encounter something nasty!