We are so civilized today that our senses do not get the same workout they used to when we were wearing loin cloths and carrying spears. A case in point is our sense of smell. When was the last time you heard anyone bragging that they could smell you fifty feet away?
This now underutilized sense has a long, long history. In fact, they say smell was the first sense to develop. While we were scarcely out of our amoeba and paramecium rompers, our wiggly feelers were following aromas to food and sex. Not much has changed in that department.
But compared to other mammals, man’s sense of smell is weak. For example, a dog’s nose is a hundred thousand to a million times more perceptive than a human’s. If you happen to be escaping from a chain gang that bloodhound on your trail has a nose a hundred million times keener. But most of us have day jobs that do not require a lot of sniffing.
Today the nose has other responsibilities. It is the weather vane, if I may be so bold in my comparison, of our mental and emotional states. For example, wasn’t that whiff of expensive perfume the tip off to old George’s perfidy? And didn’t you turn up your nose to his protestations of innocence?
And how about the time you just knew something was rotten in Denmark. You may claim it was intuition that led to the double set of accounting books. I say it was your nose. After all isn’t the seat of the nose near the forehead and isn’t the pineal gland located just behind the third eye, and you know what Lobsang Rampa has to say about that. I rest my case.
At cocktail parties when we want to get away from boring people talking about themselves, we say we’re going to powder our nose. When we’re overworked we have our nose to the grindstone which in some cases might improve the profile. If the nose is the first to arrive at your destination it may be profitable in a horse race but not at a dance
Then there is that gruesome picture of revenge and reprisal that is a result of cutting off our nose to spite our face. Does this have anything to do with the rise of rhinoplasty?
So the next time you look in the mirror and notice the old proboscis, don’t pay attention to that big pimple or those hairs sticking out. Don’t duck and cringe when somebody says, “oink, oink.” Get a mirror and admire that profile. It’s the face on the coin of your personal kingdom.
Today our nose is less a direction finder and more of a memory trigger. For example, when I smell the scent of Sweet Allysum I travel back in time to when I was four years old sitting in my sand box next to my mother’s flower garden. This association naturally leads me to consider other memorable aromas stored in my proboscian archives, the ones instantly recognizable that call up names and faces, times and places, the bouquet of my memories.
- coffee perking on the stove in my grandmother’s kitchen
- sitting under a blossoming grapefruit tree in southern California
- baby powder on new bathed skin
- sitting on a log in the snow smoking a cigarette as the sun rises
- new mown grass on the day the carnival came to town when I was 9
- opening the cedar chest to take out the winter clothes stored in moth balls
- bread baking in my mother’s oven
- the smell of earth and worms in March as I dug new flower beds
- clouds of incense filling the church during high mass on Sunday morning
- the sharp metallic tang of mercurochrome when I skinned my knees
What are your favorites? What scents and aromas take you back to an earlier you?