Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Napalm in the morning

There is a memorable scene in the 1979 movie, Apocalypse Now, when Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) stands near a blast area in Vietnam, with his hands on his hips, and states, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

I had a similar encounter this weekend. I wasn’t surrounded by soldiers, and I didn’t have helicopters flying overhead, but my experience was equally satisfying as I stood with my hands on my hips and thought, “I love the smell of turpentine in the morning.”

No, I wasn’t sniffing it to get a high, although I probably could have if I’d tried. It is simply one of the familiar and friendly (to me) smells that I experience when I am doing some serious oil painting. Because I’ve lately been working with pen and ink or acrylics, which have water-based chemistries, I have not enjoyed the familiar fragrance of my trusty turpentine for awhile. Even though oil paints have eco-friendly companions – turpenoid, various mixing gels and safer alternatives – I still prefer some of the older and “smellier” mediums.

This got me thinking about other activities and related smells. I’m sure there are many parallels to my experience. Cabinetmakers or carpenters must have a sense of appreciation for the wood that they work with as they cut or plane a board, creating the sweet fragrance of cedar or pine. While working in the kitchen, a cook or chef will inevitably create multiple, tantalizing aromas. Outdoorsmen surely take pleasure in the seasonal scents associated with their gear or clothing, and the distinct smell of the ice shack or tent as each is opened up every year. The list goes on and on. Think about it. Smells that cannot, and must not, be separated from their source often become an integral part of the experience. Leatherwork, auto repair, a doctor’s office, the florist, grandma’s house, a swim meet, the local tavern. Even the pungent odors emanating from a boys’ high school locker room. All of these smells are important to make us feel alive, and aware, and to help us be able to appreciate the full impact of an activity.

How amazing is this sense of smell that we’ve been given! How much less interesting would our lives be if we weren’t able to breathe in deeply, and even with our eyes shut, know where we are and what is going on around us? My dog’s intense sense of smell always amazes me, as he sniffs around our backyard and locates an underground mole tunnel or a half-inch, long-dead frog hidden among the river rock. None of us would ever want to be that nosy, but it illustrates how amazing the schnoz really is.

So, in the spirit of interactive blogativity (Thank you, Dana, for the term!), I invite and would like everyone reading this post to comment. Give us some examples of your favorite and/or most hated smells. Communicate to the world that you are paying attention!

15 comments:

mamamouseiam said...

Mmmm, great topic Dennis!

Me? I love the smell of campfire, but hate the way my hair reeks of it in the morning. I love the smell of rain, but hate (hate!) the “worm” smell. I love puppy breath, but don’t much care for the smell of what comes out the other end! ;-)

CousinK said...

Oh yea...... Lutfisk !!And that's the way it is spelled in my Swedish dictionary. I will continue with my smelly thoughts (sorry) but that's the first one that came to mind. I am looking through old slides and yesterday I came across the picture of my mother on Christmas Eve in 1963. She was standing at our kitchen sink boning the lutfisk before she served it with white sauce which was a Christmas Eve tradition at our house that I miss. Every year I look longingly at the packaged fish but not being sure if I dare serve it to my dear husband I do not buy it. It's more than the fish though, it's a whole bunch of memories that are triggered by it's very potent smell. Maybe this Christmas!

Laura said...

Skunk. Don't ask me why, but I kinda like it. Is that weird?! I also like the smell of fresh cut grass- just smelled that one for the first time this week- yay for spring!

Michael said...

The smell that brings me way back to my youth is the smell of the little Hostess store on Rice Street and B2.
I always loved that deliciously sweet, baked, Twinkie smell when I was a single digit walking in with my mom on a Saturday morning.

I can smell it now...

Unfortunately, I went into the Hostess store about a month ago for the first time in 20 years, and it had lost that awesome scent.
:(

John said...

Skunk, Laura!? That is weird! I love the smell of rain, fresh cut grass, gas, anything Mom cooks, fires or anything having to do with camping, coffee, Grandma's house and leather. I'm sure there are others but I can't spend all day writing. I have work to do.

Laura said...

ooh- Gram's house and gasoline- me too!!

Dana Leigh said...

I think I have a very keen sense of smell so I'm always the one that smells something before it reaches everyone's else's nose. One of my FAVORITE smells is a fresh cut cucumber. It just smells so fresh and clean. I also like fresh cut grass, the smell of an outdoor grill cooking meat, grapefruit, clothes fresh out of the dryer and a guy that wears just the perfect amount of nice smelling cologne. I also like the smell of Fuzzer. After he has given himself a bath (and he's dry), he smells like maple syrup!
I HATE the smell of cigarettes!

Anonymous said...

Great question. I really can only think of one smell I hate and many I love. Hate: the dentist office smell Love: a running a boat motor, lilacs, the oil used to clean a gun, plain chap stick, grain dust in the air at harvest and popcorn. Coming up with my list brought back great memories of past times, places and people. Tell Pat, my Fackbook friend, thanks for suggesting your blog! -Pat A.

Auntie Fluffy said...

Loved this blog D...here's my "makes me happy" list of smells...WHITE CASTLE HAMBURGERS! It's funny, but I think of dad every time I smell one...long story! Vicks VapoRub...yes, another long story of my happy (spoiled rotten) youth! Flannel sheets fresh from the dryer...My puppy after an oatmeal bath...the cabin...the Malt O Meal plant when they make chocolate krispies..it's a Northfield thing :) ...my husbands chest. OK...I'll quit! I may be bordering "TMI"...(((hugs))) m

CousinK said...

Must add the smell of baking bread, and of course coffee when it's ready to drink first thing in the morning. Then there's the smell of newly washed and dried sheets when they have been hung outside..... I think that it's even better than being dried in the dryer! Also, rain after a hot summer day, lilacs when they first come out. This idea has really started us thinking, hasn't it?

CA_Gary said...

Baby puppy breath or oder de Napalm in the morning how often we under appreciate the subtle effect smells have on directing our memories or actions. When I am traveling the pillow next to me in the hotel never smells as good as the one at home. Viva the rose that smells so sweet next to me! - - - Now where did I put that puppy diaper? Ack! Skunk alert!!! Family traditions can always be blamed on the poor dog.

Be it ever so humble . . . there is no place that smells like home.

But my favorite is the smell of mountain air in the early morning stillness, at sunrise when the dew is rising off the meadow and mixes with the scent of pine, and earth, while a brook babbles away. It smells good to be alive.

Dee Dee Buns said...

I love your Blog about smell. To me, smell is so individual, yet so universal. You are so right about the smells associated with places and/or things. As a child, I remember a smell that came from an orange juice processing plant about four miles from my house. When the wind would blow our direction, you would smell that awful smell. The plant is gone now, has been for many years and what I would give to smell that awful smell one more time. I have a love/hate relationship with the smell and although, at the time, I hated the smell, now when I drive through the area of the old plant, I yearn for that smell and a chance to go back to that time when things were so simple. Well, that’s progress.

Tara said...

I love the smell of my children right out of the bath, grandma's house, mom and tracy doing laundry...I don't like a whole bunch of smells but one that is sticking out right now is, when someone comes in from outside and they have that "outside" smell.

Jamie said...

I love the smell of a charcoal grill blowing in the wind on a summer day. I also love the distinctive smell of Northern Minnesota, a combination of Lake Superior and pine. And of course my little red head after a bath :)

Tonia said...

What a cool topic...really got me thinking about it, and of course I thought of about a thousand smells that trigger memories for me. my top 5:

1. The smell of horses, leather, grain, and hay will always and forever be my #1 favorite smell in the whole entire world. There is nothing better.
2. The smell of my Nonna's pasta sauce, mixed with a tinge of moth-balls and her perfume.
3. Fall (leaves, the approaching cold, apples, pumpkins)
4. My dog smells really good in his own doggy way
5. Chainsaw fuel, snow, and sawdust reminds me of my dad.