The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Smelling the Roses

There are things that happen on a motorbike you just can’t replicate in a car.  

One of those things is smells.  The grounding sensation of becoming aware of my surroundings at such an instinctual, primitive level anchors me in a way nothing else can.

And so I’d like to share with you a few of the scents that have struck me hard enough to stay with me over the years.  

I’ve made my post-Navy way through life in sawmills.  I can smell a sawmill miles away.  It brings me joy.

And hay fields at first cutting, the ozone from spring thunderstorms across the plains.  A river deep in a canyon in the desert, the sea when returning from a long trip inland.  I smell it 30 nautical miles away at the crest of the coastal range.  You can smell the coolness of the redwoods after a hot summers day run over the mountains.  The dank musk of buffalo in Wyoming, 

Of course, there’s a price:  the stench of hog trucks, the alarming olfactory assault of downhill truck brakes as they rumble past while you climb.  The heavy smell of breakfast cereal in the mid morning air on any given workday in Joliet, Illinois.  The dusty stifle of smog in LA as you descend over the Grapevine – or in fact, the oily smother of any Interstate.

But still – the fresh perfume of blooming spring in Portland.  The briny salt of coastal Maine.  The crisp alpine air of the Rockies, or the Cascades.  Or Sierras.  They’re all different, and yet you think “Alpine”, for each.  

And on the night air, you can smell dinner cooking in an unseen house somewhere back away from sight of the road, in the woods.  You can smell the animals in the barn, the mist blanketing a low valley.

And laugh if you want, but on a night in Quebec when the northern lights begin, you can smell it.  I don’t know what it is, but before it starts, the night air turns.  It is neither a good nor bad smell – you just know something is happening.  And then, suddenly, you round a mountain corner and from a turnout overlooking the valley below you see the sky gradually big begin to glow green, and vivid.  And you’re ready, for reasons it takes a while to sort through to understand in your mind.

And that’s why smell matters.  It makes you ready for the setting you’re in.  It’s a filter for your other senses to process through.  Scent prepares your other senses – to see, and touch.  The smell of a campfire in the woods reminds me of the dinner I‘ll have when I set up camp.  I find myself sometimes listening, and realize later that it was because I had smelled something first.   

And from the saddle of a motorbike, the world of senses is closer to you than ever.

Breathe in the universe.


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