Trying to hone the sense of smell

I didn’t lose the sense of smell with COVID-19. But I’m now aware that detecting (and recognising) smells is both a privilege and a skill. One that I neglect. I wish, vaguely and ineffectively, that I could hone my pathetic sense of smell.

I was briefly in a wine club, and the sense of taste, as you know, is largely dependent on the sense of smell. So I was doomed. This wine is nice. This wine is not nice. This wine is too sweet, too acid, too much like cat piss. That’s pretty much as far as my education as an oenophile advanced.

Can I blame repeated surgical procedures to remove and replace and hitch and mutilate parts of my nose? I don’t think so. It was ever thus.

It’s true, my sense of smell exists but it is feeble. How about you?

Anyway, I gave mine a workout the other day. I paid attention to some of the smells that hit me during the day.

photo of pot holding a straggly geranium with pale flower, and a daisy plant with no flowers
A straggly scented geranium

First I go past a large pot on our stairwell. Two plants looking more like weeds are my heroes: the only plants that grow here without any direct sunlight or rain. I bend down and rub the leaves and sniff the one shy little flower. Very satisfying! But what does it smell like? I have no idea. But I know what I like.

photo of a potato  plant flowering amidst other leaves
A potato flower blooming in a raspberry patch

A raspberry bed is thriving in our street, but the centrepiece is a potato flower. I know it’s a raspberry bed. Therefore I smell raspberry leaves.

14 broad bean pods lined up on a flat surface.
Broad beans gathered from the Innermost Gardens nearby.

Broad beans smell itchy and lumpy. That’s all I can say.

close-up photo of a bush with conifer-like leaves and small white flowers.
This plant might be a kind of heather? No, that’s wrong.

I brush past this bush with no name. (Planties, what is it?) Its scent leaps up, grabs me by the nose and twists. Ouch.

A ti kouka tree in front of a two-storey wooden house in sunshine.
Ti kouka ((cabbage tree”) about to bloom

At last, a scent I recognise! But I only know it’s ti kouka flowers because of context. I know they send out their divine sweet scent at dusk in spring. That’s been happening in our neighbourhood for two or three weeks. That means a ti kouka (cabbage tree) is in bloom somewhere. It could be far away, because this scent travels. (It can’t be from the tree in the photo above, because it’s daytime and those flowers are still in bud.)

photo of the inside of a cupboard under a kitchen sink. Tinned food, cleaning materials, and a cat with huge amber eyes are in the cupboard.
What smells are lurking under the kitchen sink?

The cupboard under the kitchen sink should be pungent with the smell of cleaning materials, vege scraps in a bucket, and today, one cat. But I’m darned if I can smell a thing. I would hate my apartment to start smelling of cat. Sometimes I get a whiff from Ursula’s bed/bathroom porch, and I do recognise that smell. Open windows and a squirt from a can temporarily annihilate the smell.

Science and exhortations about the sense of smell

Of course I googled and found plenty of writing. The science interests me and the idea of paying attention attracts me. But apparently smell walks are a thing. We are earnestly exhorted to walk 1.5 km with a notebook and map everything that we smell. Sorry, never gonna happen. However, I found it a delightful challenge to switch my attention from the visual to the olfactory.

More about smells from Ursula

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15 thoughts on “Trying to hone the sense of smell

  1. josaiawrites says:

    I lost my sense of smell after some sinus surgery over 20 plus years ago. Whenever I do get the rare occasional whiff (usually of vanilla) I get ecstatic. We truly don’t appreciate someb things until we lose them..

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That was very tough! Vanilla: i will remember that. It’s a beautiful smell.

      1. josaiawrites says:

        It is a wonderful sweet comforting smell for me. So glad that I still have that!

  2. Can I just say – I smell awful! (not really, in either sense(see what I did there!))

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I see, hear, feel and smell what you did there. Top form!

  3. judibwriting says:

    So funny that I began my day yesterday deciding to focus on my sense of smell for deliberate gratitude. I switch my focus every day so I can pay attention of what to be thankful for. My sense of smell is a little diminished with age but still is there. As we are heading into winter here in Ohio, in the U.S. the heat is on all the time now and our rooms gets dry and my nose gets itchy. I decided to use my essential oil diffuser and used a blend called Pirates- because pirates used this blend of oils designed to ward off the Black Plague. It must work because I haven’t gotten any sort of plague this week. So far.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      How good to read this and sense a certain synchronicity at play. Essential oils are so intense, they do teach us!

  4. realruth says:

    I think your bush might be Breath of Heaven.

  5. This time of year elderflowers are blooming – and they’re bloomin’ good for making cordial too. The smell is of summer.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We had an elder tree once. But the scent didnt register with me. Pretty, though.

  6. Sadje says:

    My sense of smell is average but both my daughters have very keen sense of smell. So anything that is unpleasant can magnify many times. I’m glad I can’t smell from the garbage in the next house.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Good point! There is the upside.

      1. Sadje says:

        Oh yes, definitely.

  7. alison41 says:

    Reading your post reminds me to be grateful for my enduring good sense of smell. Crushed geranium leaves are delicious, ditto parsley, and a host of others. I enjoyed the pic of Ursula’s hidey hole. A perfect safe, dark, private nook.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks Alison! I certainly need reminding, myself. And Ursula agrees with you.