The woods are now full of smells. I felt a bit like a dog this morning in the dampness of the leaf litter. It is the smell of autumn, and sparks old memories of apple picking in Worcestershire when I was young – bleary, just-woken-up eyes, leaning against the Aga with a black coffee in the warm farmhouse kitchen, listening to the farming news on the radio, the sharp cold and rich animal smell in the big barn, steam rising from the cows, the smell of diesel as we jumped on to a trailer, the tractor rolling and swaying like a horse.
All these memories are triggered by a single whiff of earth. It is well known that smells invoke memories with peculiar vividness. The hint of perfume, the richness of a rose,, the smell of a baby or a loved dog, even the smell of a rusty nail.
These memory flashes must be going on all the time, as we move through our world. Petrol, old clothes, new cars. All we need to do is pay attention to the smells and give them time to give us their richness. The problem with this is that we would never get anything done! We would get into the car and spend the best part of an hour identifying the various smells of takeaway food, petrol, polish, a wilting red carnation, an open bag of mints, and then reminiscing about each smell.
This would be mindfulness gone mad. It would be interesting to experience the past like this, though, as omnipresent. The present, with its smells, would constantly spark memories of the past.
As a blind person, it’s something I’m working on. I’m trying to smell everything. If you go down to the woods today, you might be in for a big surprise, when you come across a balding man, old enough to know better, on his hands and knees, snuffling in the undergrowth!