Monday, November 29, 2010


I walked outside just now and took a deep breath as I contemplated the next two and a half hours of solitude. In the air I caught a faint scent of new rain. I closed my eyes and inhaled again, more deeply this time, searching. Depending on the season, the musky scent of rain beginning to fall takes me one of two places.

A chilly rain, like today, takes me to Logan Canyon in early autumn. I have left the car at the parking lot at Third Dam and found a trail heading...upward. It doesn't really matter where the trail leads. I hike quickly but aimlessly, the chill giving me energy and the mist over the mountains shrouding any pretended goal. I revel in the solitude of mist and twirling leaves, the drip of the rain and the scent of the earth.

A warm rain, on the other hand, sends me to the desert in the midst of a downpour in Mesa, Arizona. As usual, given the rarity of a rainstorm here, I have left the windows down on my parents' Ford Courier truck. I run out into the rain, laughing, to close them. I toss a towel on the seat for the ride home, but tomorrow's blistering heat will dry the upholstery just fine. The rain covers the hubcaps, and we splash in the street, shirts now a second skin and hair drenched.

I love the power of smell to unlock memories, transporting me to almost forgotten moments in times and places I haven't visited in years. A trip to the grocery store leaves me paused in the coffee aisle, my body in County Market but my head far away in Alaska. At 4 a.m. we have gallons of coffee waiting. The sun rose long ago, and the vacationing fishermen begin to trickle into the dining room. Randy has the float planes waiting at the beach, and the guides swallow their last bites of bacon and eggs. A few hours of folding clothes or cleaning rooms will earn me an afternoon to explore the tundra.

Far from the wilderness of the Alaskan bush, I find myself strangely enamoured with the smell of diesel fumes on a passing city bus. Nasty smell, I suppose, but for me it smells of freedom and adventure, of early morning in Chicago. For the moment, I am fifteen, traveling cross country alone. Just after dawn, we near the Greyhound station. I gaze up at the skyscrapers, smile at the busy and unfamiliar din of horns honking. In another 24 hours, I will yearn for a long shower and a quiet bed, but here in the city the tingle of adventure quickens my step. I want to dance about, but instead I stroll through the bus terminal in my best imitation of a seasoned traveler.

Back in the Midwest again, but much older, I search for Christmas candles. I find it difficult to choose among the pine of childhood Christmas trees, the vanilla that reminds me of the eggnog at Mrs. Gleich's annual Christmas bazaar, or the spicy citrus of the oranges we used to cover in cloves and tuck away in our sock drawers. Perhaps I should simply buy them all and bring decades of Christmases together in a whiff.

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