Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Scent of Melancholy

There's a smell in the air that always spells Autumn to me. I have no idea what it is, and nobody I've described it to can make anything of my description.

I always notice it around the time of year the kids go back to school. It's a dry, dusty smell that catches in the back of my throat. I don't think it has anything to do with furnaces, because they're not turned on yet. (Heck, a lot of places are still running the AC, though this has been a delightfully cool summer in my neck of the woods.) It can't have anything to do with fall leaves, either - those have their own distinctive odor that's all tied in with the sound they make when you crunch your way through them, and anyways at this point they're still on the trees.

When I smell this smell, I find myself remembering things. I smelled that smell the day I picked up the field mouse in the schoolyard in fourth grade or so, and it bit me (naturally.) Dad's still mad that the school never called him and Mom to tell them their daughter got bitten by a wild animal. I picked it up in the first place because I loved all furry things so much that I had no sense whatsoever; I'm much happier now as a dog owner, but Mom's asthma forbade that in my youth.

I smelled it the day my folks left me at Wooster for my freshman year of college - I distinctly remember catching a whiff on the stairs to the basement laundry room. The smell used to be so strongly associated with that leavetaking, going-back-to-college time that I would get teary with homesickness whenever I smelled it - I'm a little teary now, remembering, though the effect isn't strong any longer.

Maybe it has something to do with the cold nights and warm days. Maybe it's the smell of the soil in its last rush of fertility, before the harvest and the fallow winter. I wonder why this smell affects me this way, especially given that autumn is my absolute favorite season, but I can only think of it as the scent of melancholy.

image by hirekatsu at stock.xchng

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