Proust knew the power of the senses to recall moments past, but science has only recently caught up. Our noses, at least, are organs of memory. Smells transport us—like evanescent time machines.
Here on the East Coast, humid, sweltering summers yield the vegetal scents—fetid and sweet–that open a thousand doors to the past. Is this part of summer’s recipe for relaxing us? To deliver us–through an olfactory seduction–to certain weightless moments of childhood and youth, unlading us of our cares?
The smell of grass brings back summersaults, cartwheels, and games of Crack the Whip. The honeysuckle or privet scents that lace the night air bring back high school romance. The smells of summer rain, ocean, marsh, or pond all recall me to early discoveries and adventures.
On a bike ride in the country with my husband in June—strawberry season–I inhaled the fragrance of a meadow, and thought of my mother. I saw her walking ahead of my small brother and me–young and slim and scanning the ground, squinting in the sun. We waded behind her through the warm grasses and weeds that itched our legs. The grasshoppers jumped away.
Finally, she bent down, parted a stand of buttercups, and smiled, motioning to us with a nod of her head.
“Look,” she said. And we crowded her to see the wild strawberries she’d found.