Editors Blog

Inhale a Memory


It is one of those shirt-soaking August days as I write these words, and I’ve just come back from cutting red cabbage and pulling carrots and white onions to make a monster bowl of coleslaw to go with tonight’s fried catfish.

The aromas are overpowering, especially those from the cabbage. And, as odd as this sounds, it smells a lot like bow-hunting.

You see, cabbage reminds me of my mom. She used to cut it from her garden in late August so she could make her locally famous sauerkraut. And that tradition always coincided with the arrival of archery season.

I never really thought about the science behind memory and our sense of smell until recently when I ran across an article published by the California Institute of Technology. According to researchers, our sense of smell is more closely tied to mental recall than any of our other senses.

I certainly believe it, because here I sit, inhaling some pungent, yet oh-so-sweet, memories. And they have me thinking of other smells that evoke similar thoughts.

For starters, there’s goldenrod. That  plant’s dank, wet-dog smell immediately evokes thoughts of a 9-point buck I arrowed back in the mid-1990s. The deer had to walk through a field of that stuff to get within bow-range of my stand on a cool, dew-soaked September morning. He stopped 12 steps from my tree, swiveled his cupped ears and stamped his right hoof once just before my arrow hit its mark.

Moisture is a common theme in many of my aroma-induced memories. For example, there’s the licorice-like smell of damp ferns. One whiff of those will transport me to one of the most difficult blood trails I’ve ever encountered. That deer ran through two swamps and crossed a creek before falling in a bed of ferns on the edge of the property I was hunting. Oddly, I often think back to that swamp and that blood trail when I open a package of Twizzlers for my kids.

Other smells and memories are even more pronounced … like Hoppe’s No. 9 gun-cleaning solvent. One whiff immediately conjures up visions of my dad, brothers and cousins at my first visit to a classic deer camp more than 25 years ago.

An Hunter’s Specialties’ earth scent wafer works in similar fashion. I don’t wear them on my camo hat so much for  their cover-scenting abilities. I wear them because the scent reminds me of an afternoon  more than a decade ago when my then-girlfriend arrowed her first deer while sitting on the ground overlooking an alfalfa field. Some couples mark their memories by songs or movies. We marked ours with scents. Perhaps there is something to those scientific studies.

Even during my wildest days in college, I never felt the urge to smoke cigarettes, pot, or, Heaven forbid, snort anything. Yet, I must admit, I’ve been inhaling highly intoxicating substances ever since I can remember … and collecting many fond hunting memories to go with them.

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