As Lindsay and I reach the summit of Guanella Pass with the windows rolled down, high on the Front Range of Colorado, the distinct aromatic qualities of Fall tickle my nose. This sense of smell, which we often under-utilize, reminds me of the role senses play in triggering our memories.
The crisp breeze reminds me of the fog that use to roll in across the playground of my middle school in the mountains of Southern California. We would run down a small hill and disappear into the fog. That wet air carries a playful smell memory from childhood which relaxes my nose and maybe even my soul.
It also reminds me of high school when I’d sneak off with the smokers into the same fall fog, (never a smoker myself, I’ve somehow always enjoyed their company, laughing all the while at their constant desire to quite). One friend in particular use to douse her hands with Cucumber Melon lotion and spray Candy perfume to block the nicotine scent from watchful teachers and the always suspicious Dean, these aromas catch my attention any time I cross their paths.
Olfactory memory can also bring back not-so-pleasant odor memoirs, like that which loomed from the bologna and hot dog packaging plant around the corner from my home-stay in Morelia, Mexico. I’m reminded of this everyday as the dog food plant on my way to work spews out the same smell of rotten flesh and parts and bits and kibbles that people and their best animal friends should probably not be consuming.
Simultaneously, Willie Nelson’s voice taunts my aural memory. His comforting tone sneaking off the car radio here on the pass, drifts me back to a smokey bar in West Yellowstone, Montana, where I spent an entire summer worth of post-work nights learning about country politics, how to lose at pool, and the intricacies of elk hunting.
The memory of taste remains in my mind as well. The great thing about Colorado is one morning you can be up above tree line when just the night before you were hunched over a bowl of Vietnamese noodle soup, something cleverly called Pho, on South Federal Boulevard. This sumptuous taste reminded me of the more recent memories from our trip through Vietnam this summer where we hunched over similar bowls of Pho as often as we could. This is a poetic palette memory that now feels more like a dream than an actual experience.
With all this, I’m in a near melancholic panic pulled over at the viewpoint, a state of nostalgia removing me from the present mountain moment at 11,000 feet. But fortunately, my eyes open, push all these other senses away as they usually do, and reveal the snow-capped Mt. Bierstadt, the Rocky Mountain’s warm blue sky, and the alpine tundra in all its glory. This too will soon become an aural and olfactory and even tasteful memory, but what a lovely sight and smell and sound taking over my wandering soul for just a brief moment in this great cosmos we joyously call home.