Scents in the Night

Being both pale and Odd, I tend to do my strolling and brisk walking at night, or so early in the morning that it might as well be night. Since vision drops a little down the hierarchy of “effective senses”, I’ve noticed over the past 30 years or so that scent and sound become more important. I have a personal rule not to taste unknown things in the dark, and while feeling the differences in the pave vs. grass vs. hole are important, I try to avoid areas so dark that touch becomes the most important sense. Neighborhood scent is interesting in how it differs so easily from day to day and morning to night.

The most common scent at any time of day or night, any season, is drying laundry. Many of the houses vent the dryer toward the closest sidewalk, and I usually note someone drying a load at least once or twice per stroll, sometimes more. For those who are curious, all dryer exhaust smells the same. No matter what softener sheets people use, scented or unscented detergent, wet laundry smells like wet laundry, heavy and humid, a bit musty. Only once have I smelled something different, and by the time I got to the end of the block, a fire truck had arrived. The lint in the exhaust line had caught fire. (And how long has it been since you checked your dryer vent, hmm?)

In the early morning, the next smells are breakfast and “fried.” That is if the wind is from the right direction to catch sausage frying and eggs cooking, along with biscuits in the ovens at the breakfast place a few blocks over. Sausage carries much better than bacon. If the wind shifts a little more southeast, it is donut, lots and lots of donut scent wafting by on the breeze. Which is one reason I never take money with me when I walk before breakfast. If I had $1.25 in my pocket and were facing my usual fiber-n-milk breakfast at the end of the walk . .  I’d get pulled into the Donut Hut so fast it might set a new state speed record.

I have yet to smell the house with chickens. They take a lot of care to make certain that the birds don’t cause complaints, and I suspect the coop gets cleaned on a regular basis and the results disposed of so it doesn’t smell like chicken manure.

Evenings differ. There’s one house that the kitchen vents toward the sidewalk and I’ve sniffed a nice variety of Italian and Chinese dishes, plus occasional baking. If I ever sniff the nutty-gingery thing again, I might go to the door and ask for the recipe. Otherwise, especially if it is above 40 degrees and not much wind, the smell of grilling fills the world. A few people still use too much lighter fluid, but most of what perfumes the air is hamburgers, sausage, and steaks. Lots and lots of burgers. The night before thanksgiving I stepped outside and it was pure turkey, because people had started smoking their own birds that afternoon. I was rather hungry before I got back to the house, and I’d eaten supper. Around major holidays and in summer smoking meat is more common, and good BBQ.

Now, wood smoke trickles down from the chimneys. The neighborhood was built in the 50s and 60s, so pretty much everyone has a fireplace, although at least half are in need of repair and are not used, and more have been converted to natural gas. But I can tell the first crisp night of autumn by the wood smoke. Most people burn pine and some hardwood, but a few souls spring for piñon and I end up just standing and sniffing for a few minutes as my memories dance back to Christmases and New Years in Santa Fe. Piñon has a richness and sweet overtone that makes it one of my favorite woods to smell burning. Not too many people burn mesquite as compared to smoking with it, because it burns hot and is expensive unless you go grub it yourself. Last week someone up the block must have had trash or a critter in their chimney, because it stank so badly that I prowled around as close as I dared, looking for something else burning – like maybe the roof or the house next door (remodeling in progress with lots of painters and so on around).  It smelled like a garbage fire. There’s still a nasty underscent at that house, which makes me think something died in the chimney. I have not gone to the door to inquire.

Snowy nights smell clean with waves of wood smoke. Rainy mornings and evenings are rich with damp earth and the clear water scent of rain, followed by tree scents from cottonwoods and some elms.

When I go out at 5:00 AM and smell dust, it’s going to be a bad day.

I can’t quite navigate the area by scent, although if we have a southwest wind, everyone knows it, and you probably could steer (pun intended) by the scent of post-processing cattle feed.

I’m just glad the new bakery is downwind of the school. Otherwise we’d have a lot more people late for first hour classes, and that includes faculty!

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6 thoughts on “Scents in the Night

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t mention ozone after a rain… 🙂 And cooking food makes my stomach rumble and grumble, even if I’ve just finished dinner!

    • If there’s enough lightning to have ozone in the air, I’m inside, or doing my best impression of being shorter than the grass. Once close call (as in strike hit four-five feet away) was enough.

      • 🙂 Smart… Gotta admit there is nothing like running across the ramp as lightning hits all around one to give you some additional ‘speed’… Or hiding under the wing and watching a strike hit the nose gear chain and blow the padeye out of the ramp!!!

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