Friday, September 2, 2022

In My Footsteps: When A Smell Sparks Up Nostalgia


    Have you ever had a certain scent stir up intense memories? I’ve had a lot of recent experiences, especially during the warmer months. It centers around pine. Pine trees, pine needles, maybe the sap, I don’t know, but it’s strong. It happened again today while I was walking from my car into a client’s house which led me to write this. The smell of the pine needles strewn across the ground, coupled with the dry, late-summer air made a perfect potpourri. So much so that I had to stop and take a moment to acknowledge the memories and emotion that was brought to the surface.

    Whether on a forest trail or a bike trail the past comes softly calling. It always sends me back to the same place, the same time. Age sixteen, 1994. Why is that? It’s easy yet complicated.

    1994 was likely the last time that I felt the warmth of innocence. I was a sophomore in high school, still living in the neighborhood that had molded my childhood like fresh clay. It was a time when the world was still there to be conquered, but there was no rush to make concrete plans. I had dreams, to be a writer, filmmaker, something that gave my creative spirit joy. But there was time.

The old tracks filled with pine trees.(2009)

    1994 was a time in life when everybody was still here. I had never experienced loss. I didn’t know the deep and permanent scars that can be left in your heart when you lose someone, whether just from your life or from this earth entirely. I sit back now and think about all that I didn’t know about the world and I wish I could go back there. I think about things I didn’t know about people, places, and things, and wish I could go back there.

    1994 was an innocent time. School was relatively easy albeit time-consuming. Life was cluttered with amazing friends. It was filled with fun times when fun times were so simple and basic and the worries were not real worries. Did I finish my homework? Does that girl like me? Do I have enough money to buy anything good at the corner store?

    I was lucky enough to live in an area that allowed me to walk through quiet streets, through some secluded wooded pathways, and to a tiny strip mall where my friends and I would buy soda, chips, and candy.

Quiet streets to walk.

    There were abandoned railroad tracks and sandy paths running under rows of power lines. We’d walk the tracks, or sneak onto the nearby golf course. I’d feel like I was on an adventure but never felt worried or threatened by life. The world was happy. The world was safe. Along those railroad tracks, along those sandy paths, along the golf course were untold numbers of pine trees, big and tall, or short and stubby. The joy I felt in those times, on those adventures, and in life in general, was captured and contained in the smell of the pine. While I was making those long-lasting positive memories the scent of the pine seeped into my subconscious.

    I didn’t notice it much until the last few years. Ironically they have been filled with loss and instability. The world doesn’t feel happy. The world doesn’t feel safe. I’ve lost countless family members and friends. I’ve faced adult choices and adult demons that make me long for the time-consuming school days of 1994.

    It feels like in the last few years the universe has known I’ve needed some peace of mind and thus the smell of the pine came to the forefront. I can be sitting at a park, walking the bike trail, or like today walking across a parking lot to someone’s house and I’ll catch a whiff. Suddenly it’s 1994 again.

    It’s 1994, I’m sixteen, and I can visit any of my grandparents whenever I want. I can pick up the phone and call friends and make plans to ‘hang.’ Or I could grab my bike and ride to someone’s house, or to the corner store, and bask in the fleeting feelings of youth. The future lay out before me like a sunny highway. Nothing seemed uncertain, nothing to fear. Dreams were larger than regret. Living the good old days we didn’t know were good yet.

    This is not an isolated experience. There are other scents that bring back other types of memories. But the pine is the most intense. It sparks a nostalgic flame that I welcome each time. It’s as if the scent of the pine was a fine wine I gathered back then to break out on special occasions.

    Sit back and think. What scents take your mind somewhere? Why do you think that is the case? If you’re wondering how something like memory-inducing scents happen check out this article.

Why Smells Trigger Such Vivid Memories -


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