As an adult, I often am reminded of things from my childhood. Often these memories are of events. These memories are triggered by other events that happen in my waking life or in my dreams while asleep. Sometimes these memories are triggered by how a person reacts to or approaches me. Sometimes, by a TV show or a photo. Sometimes, even by a smell or a taste!
I think most people can relate to tasting something that takes you back to a memory. Maybe it is tasting your new wife’s/in laws preparation of a food that reminds you of how your mom made it. This would instantly take you back to a day your mom made that dish for you and how you both interacted with each other. That memory, in real time is only a few seconds, but in your memory feels much longer. And you were transported back in time.
How many people can relate to a smell reminding you of the past? Yes, maybe a smell of that food cooking, or smells of your neighborhood, or home, etc. But have you ever smelled something that actually doesn’t seem to exist in your vicinity? An aroma so powerful that the memory of that time you smelt it or had the item in your hand related to that smell brings that smell back to you?
This question came to me while learning a little about essential oils and their properties the other day. Vetiver was an oil that many ladies seem to like around my area. I never heard of this. This oil is derived from a grass in south India (and other parts of Asia), in fact I found through a bit of research this word is derived from Tamil (veti- to cut, ver- root). Oddly intriguing. Anyhow, many of the ladies seem to like this as a ‘grounding oil’ for chakra balancing and also because it reminds them of some memory they can’t actually remember. This smell takes them somewhere. Then the teacher asked, is there any smell like this for you? I knew immediately. There is a smell of a book I got from the Tirupathi Venkateshwara temple, it was the smell of temple agarbatti and burnt ghee diyas. When I bought this book home from India, it had kept it’s smell. I had not even showed this book to my sister, but she smelled it across the room as I opened my suitcase, and she commented, “You must have a book from India in there!” Yes, in fact, I did. How did my sister know this, when she never burns incense nor has she been to a place that had these smells? I thought this in my head, as the aromatherapy instructor went on to tell a story. In colonial days of US, British imported nice handmade scarves to US from India. In those days, all items had to be shipped here on ships, and this took a long time. In packaging the scarves from India for the long journeys, they were wrapped around patchouli.
In fact, this was used as modern day ‘moth balls’ in US, to keep the bugs from eating the fine fabrics. But this left a smell, also. In fact, this smell was so attractive to the early American settlers, that once shipping changed and these scarves could come in at a quicker speed or that they weren’t sent with these patchouli inserts, the women did not want the scarves. No matter how beautiful, they were attracted to the smell! The smell was what was beautiful about the scarves. This answered my doubt! Maybe this smell has been ingrained in the people! From centuries ago, this smell reminded people of India, even if they never actually smelled it in this lifetime!
Wilderness Wisdom Wednesdays: Skunks
Reprinted from zine5 posting on September 6, 2006.
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