Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scents of Place

Scent is the most evocative sense. An aroma can take you back many years and thousands of miles. For a brief time, I lived in a steel town. I presently live in a steel town. Every now and then, there’s an aroma (well, OK, an odor) that brings flashback memories of that earlier place. More pleasantly, sometimes the aroma of baking bread take me back to that same earlier place. It wasn’t all steel town smells. It was also small neighborhood bakery aromas.

Not all aromas trigger that kind of flashback. When I smell feedlot, it doesn’t take me back to towns in the Great Plains. I have pleasant memories of my times there, but feedlot smell wasn't one of them and so apparently doesn't trigger the nice memories. It just triggers a 'yuck.' For a few years, I lived in Fargo, close enough to the sugar beet plant to catch a whiff of that from time to time. My time in Fargo was quite enjoyable but I’ve not been near a sugar beet plant since then to see if that smell would take my mind back to Fargo.

Natural scents here in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula include the pleasant aroma of peatlands in the spring and summer. It’s a bit of a decaying vegetation smell but it really is much more pleasant than that description makes it out to be. Maybe my pleasant association with the peatland aroma is from enjoying my walks near the peatlands and the views across the peatlands. There’s also an aroma of the first few warm, moist spring days. I heard somewhere that that aroma is related to a soil bacterium but I’ve not looked that up to confirm it.

When communities do visioning exercises that involve listing community assets, the participants often list natural beauty, high quality natural environments, and cultural and historical features as some of the physical assets of their community. I’m not sure how often scents and aromas make the list of community assets but they should.

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