Our little pea brains have nominated sight and touch as our favorite senses, but in fact smell is among the most powerful of the five. It is integral to taste and strongly linked to emotional memory. One whiff on the breeze can transport you back years to an intense and detailed memory of childhood. What then, of its role in nurturing, fulfilling, animating our comprehension and love of the outdoors? Smell surely forms our passions, fuels them perhaps, in ways we can only glimmer.
When I first start thinking about smell and outdoor adventure, my mind got stuck in a loop of three: pine trees, ocean, and campfires. There are, of course, infinite smells and combinations of them, and the more you consider them, the more you recognize — and in doing so, the more you see how they inform and add dimension to our experience. Take just one, for example: new tires for your bike. For the last few years, I’ve tried to keep Nevagals on all my mountain bikes (currently three, but I need a new one), and I ordered a new set online not too long ago. When I opened the box, it smelled like newness, joy, Christmas — the strong tang of virgin rubber blended with an undercurrent of cardboard that made me think of gifts, childhood bicycles, the sensation of traction on a berm, and the inflating promise of the potential of the new. Rather, I didn’t think it — it all washed over me as unarticulated knowledge. A sense that I felt.
My guess is that pine trees, oceans, and campfires will come out on top, but who knows? Pick as many smells as you like, no limits on choice, and let’s see how it all shakes out.
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