Late Note: Maybe tonight is the night!! The forecast for aurora borealis in the mid-latitudes for tonight and tomorrow night looks very promising. I’ll be out there if the weather is at all clear.
Fall weather is fast approaching here now. Each day I see a few more leaves in the forest understory that are yellowing or turning reddish. The annual plants are starting to die back as well. But the strongest indication that fall is near is by the smells.
My sense of smell isn’t nearly as acute as Dog’s, but we humans have better noses, I think, than we give ourselves credit for. I can identify a good many animals by their smells. I can tell that a homemade cupboard I have was made from boards taken from an old chicken coop, though those boards haven’t seen chickens in many, many years. Horses, cows, skunks, dogs, cats all have their own species scents that most humans can differentiate. I can also tell when deer are close by their musky smell, and bears have their own strong and pungent smell as well. Now, I can’t tell one deer or dog from another by their smells, the way Dog can, but I can still tell one species from another.
Places have their own smells as well, and sometimes when I smell a scent that I haven’t for a while, that scent takes me back to the place where I first smelled that aroma with such strength that it is almost magical. I can still remember the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen, and when I get pieces of that smell in other places, even today, for a second or two, I am back there again.
I remember the smells of the Adirondacks in winter—crisp and raw, snow and pines. Alaska’s coast smells to me of spruce and moisture. Africa, ah Africa, such glory in a smell. So many spices, mixed with the smell of earth and animals. I remember that smell as much as I remember anything.
And now I can tell fall is coming by the smells around me. Early fall smells are richer and deeper, almost indolent in a way that even summer is not. Mid-summer smells still carry some of the brightness of spring smells and don’t carry the same deep richness as those of early fall.
If you want to know better what I mean, drive or walk past an apple orchard with your windows down in the next few days or a week. The apples are nearly ripe now, heavy with sweetness, and the scent from them is almost impossibly beautiful and pervasive. That’s a smell you don’t get earlier in the year.
In the woods, the smell of leaves and earth has a similar richness, but not, of course, the sweetness of the orchard. In the mornings, when the air is damp, the smell, to my human nose, is strongest. It is a little like rich, damp soil, but not only that. It is a more complex smell than soil alone. It’s as though the earth has reached not only the height of its abundance but also its full breadth. And then, before that starts to fail, the aroma is tinged with a hint of crispness, the tang of change that makes the richness all the more poignant.