Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Different Places and Their Distinctive Smells

Have you ever noticed how different places have different and distinctive smells? I expect you have, especially if you’ve visited a seaside community on vacation. Even before you can hear the waves crashing on the beach or the seagulls calling, you can smell the change in the air, the hint of brine that grows ever stronger as you approah the shoreline.
Of course some places are known for their unpleasant odors. I think of a stretch of Interstate 5 in central California, where the road passes an enormous cattle ranch. Yes, you can imagine how it smells . . . something like unprocessed fertilizer.
On my recent trip to Montana, I was reminded of how wonderful certain places smell. After flying into Bozeman, we drove to Butte, where we stopped for dinner. Getting out of the car, I took a deep breath of the cool air . . . and I delighted in the smell of pine trees. There weren’t any pines nearby. But the mountains around Butte are pine covered, such that the whole area is bathed in the fresh scent of pine. Later, on some of my hikes in the mountains, the fir trees were so pungent that it seemed as if I was walking through a giant Christmas tree lot. This aroma, which might be my favorite, blesses millions of acres throughout Montana. (Photo: a trail in the Montana mountains, redolent with the sweet smell of fir trees.)

If you live in a place for a while, even for a few hours, you can quickly become immune to its distinctive scent. That’s good news if you live near a cattle ranch, but rather sad if you make your home in the mountains of Montana, or even in the Hill Country of Texas. Two years ago my family and I drove from California to Texas, the first step in our move to Boerne. I remember getting out of the car soon after we entered the Hill Country. The air smelled faintly of woodsy cinnamon, but there was nothing nearby that created the odor. I expect it was the common Hill Country combination of oak trees and what we call “cedars.” (In fact, they are Ashe Junipers.) I loved that smell as it welcomed me and my family to our new home. (Photo: A typical Hill Country scene, with hills covered by oaks and “cedars.”)

I almost never detect that smell anymore, though I expect it is all around me. Every now and then, when I return home after an out-of-town trip, I can once again enjoy the spicy fragrance of the Hill Country. But then it becomes ordinary and I stop perceiving it. Perhaps one of the gifts of a vacation is that it allows us to perceive our ordinary life, even to smell it, with fresh delight.
Have you ever been anywhere that had a distinctive smell? Where? What smell?
Thus I come to the end of my recent blog series that might be called “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.” On Monday I’ll return to more serious pursuits.

  • Dave Long

    Wow! What memories this brings back of the smells of the North Carolina mountains where I was raised and where, in less than a month, I will be vacationing for a few days. I can already imagine the smell of the crisp fall morning air filled with the rich scent of pines, not to mention also the brillance of the fall colors. Thanks for the reminder!

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