Thursday, March 02, 2006

One Degree from Disaster (and sniffing into the wind)

The forecast sounded ominous—the dreaded freezing rain and sleet for the commuting hours. Last night just before bed I went outside, without the dogs for once, to check the sky and sniff the air. The sky was only partially overcast, but more overcast than just a few hours before, so I could tell that the weather system was progressing.

Sniffing into the wind, I could scent the rawness of the air, almost taste the ice. Now, I’m going to tell you something kind of disgusting, but it’s a guaranteed way of improving your ability to smell or scent something. Human noses aren’t very good, but I think they’re better than we give ourselves credit for. We’re so used to being told how poor our ability to scent is, compared with virtually all other animals, that we tend to ignore what we are capable of.

I’ve learned to scent deer and bear as well as raccoons (and dogs and cats and other things). It helps a lot if the first time you scent them the aroma is particularly intense.

Have you ever wondered why animals with good scenting ability have moist noses? Because it improves even their already keen ability to scent. For a human, having a moist nose also improves your ability to scent, though of course you’ll never be anywhere near as good as a dog.

To me, bears smell like something rotten with an undertone of musk. Alaskan black bears smell like rotten fish. Pennsylvania black bears also smell rotten, but the scent is a bit more like rotten fruit. Raccoons have a similar smell but it’s more pungent. Deer smell musky. Find a spot where deer hang out, preferably in a little hollow that will hold the scent in place. Then choose a warm humid day with no breeze and go sniff.

So, that being said, here’s how I do it. Moisten the outside of your nostrils with spit, and while it’s still wet, scent into the wind. I think this at least doubles whatever scenting ability humans have without the moisture. You’ll be surprised at how many odors you can scent and then later learn to identify.

So there I was last night, sniffing into the wind and knowing the storm is on its way. This morning, ice against the window woke me up around 5 a.m.

This first shower of sleet and freezing rain didn’t last long, so the ice buildup wasn’t severe. Fortunately, although the sky continued to look threatening, nothing much fell out of it. I drove to work this morning, my eye on the outside temperature as displayed inside the truck. It stayed at 33ºF the entire drive in. Where I am, I was one degree from disaster. I expect the folks just 10-15 miles north of me weren’t so lucky. If I ever learn to tell the temperature by sniffing, I’ll let you know.


Cathy said...

I woke up to snow falling and day off from work :)Have about 3 inches of teh white stuff.

Right now at 1:55pm, it's switching back and forth between snow and sleet.

TraceMee said...

Hi Carolyn~
Thanks for the "scent" tips. Spending a lot of time in the woods myself, I have learned to "smell" copperhead snakes. I think they smell like cucumbers(?)
any thoughts on this?
Glad to hear baby dog is feeling better. I've been sending postive thoughts her way for a quick recovery.

Carolyn H said...

*Cathy: I hope your snow doesn't turn to freezing rain. I figured you would have snow up where you are.

Tracemee: I have seen but never smelled copperhead snakes. I think I was too busy keeping an eye on them to think about smelling them. I have heard some people say that the cucumber smell is a myth. I have heard other people say they have a nasy musky smell. Either way, I don't know.