Continuing upwards and onwards with my sensational stories of the changing season here at our little house on the hillside, this chapter sniffs its way through the olfactory elements, better known as our sense of smell!
I must preface this with a great irony that by the time I get to Part V — Sight, almost all of the leaves and colors that prompted these posts in the first place will be gone! Case in point: In less than two weeks the view from my office window has evolved from an explosion of gilded foliage to the stoic bones of birch trees.
At any rate, in pondering the perfumes of autumn, it dawned on me that a chapter on the smells of Fall is almost inextricably intertwined with the tastes of fall because our of sense of smell is such a huge component of how we enjoy the flavors of food. As author Eric Schlosser noted in his study of the modern french-fry in Fast Food Nation, an estimated 90% of our perception of flavor is attributed to smell.
Just as the flavors of Fall are very nostalgic, so too are the smells that we come to love and associate with memories of family and food. In my kitchen, something about the cooler whether spurs me into baking, and I love the way the house fills with the sweet-yet-sour scent of freshly baked bread or the carmel notes of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.
Outside, the fragrance of the Fall season is more nuanced. If you pause for a spell on a cold day, you’ll catch the acrid undertones of smoke from a wood burning stove. Walking in the woods, a good whiff returns traces of loam and earthen decomposition. Floral aromas are no more, as the last of the perennial flowers have fizzled away to sticks and seed heads.
Because Fall is also the season to finish chopping and preparing next year’s woodpile, the smells of the season would not be complete without that of freshly cut wood. Cherry logs are bright and sweet, and maple trees have a masculine spiciness that always pulls me back for a second sniff. As we clear away boughs of pine and hemlock, the strong, tangy aroma of evergreens surrounds us before vanishing into the air. Oh how I love the smell of wood!