Only the Nose Knows

“When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” — Marcel Proust

Dogs interpret the world through their nose by Laurie Buchanan

Dogs interpret the world through their nose by Laurie Buchanan

Of all the senses, smell is the best at bringing memories to the surface. The smell of what my mom called “Porcupines” (meatballs made with rice) immediately transports me to the kitchen of my childhood. The smell of gardenia takes me to Presidio Park in southern California. And like a magic carpet ride, the smell of evergreen with a hint of barnyard whisks me to the Highlands of Scotland.

Odors stimulate chemoreceptors in the nose by Len Buchanan

Odors stimulate chemoreceptors in the nose by Len Buchanan

When an odor stimulates chemoreceptors in the nose, they send electrical impulses to the brain. In turn, the brain interprets patterns in electrical activity as specific odors and olfactory sensation becomes perception that’s linked to the amygdala and hippocampus—parts in the brain that process emotion and are fundamental to our behavior, mood, and memory.

More so than seeing or hearing, different smells serve as keys that unlock memories—of people, places, and things—in our brain.

What’s your favorite smell/memory association?

Listen with your heart,

Laurie Buchanan

Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”
               — Laurie Buchanan and our Facebook page

© 2011 Laurie Buchanan – All Rights Reserved

27 thoughts on “Only the Nose Knows

  1. Good Morning Laurie! I bet you know where my nose will lead me….The smell of a bakery…if I close my eyes I can almost imagine walking down Main Street USA at WDW with the bakery smells pulling me in closer. It’s not every bakery…there must be something about the combination of what they create that sometimes mimics my happy place.

  2. Laurie I do not have a favourite smell really as I like so many. My nose is highly sensitive – it can smell snow. I have a list I suppose of ones I really enjoy – fir trees when they have been baked by the hot summer sun, the sea, chicken roasting in the oven, a spring rain, fresh coffee, peppermint tea, cookies coming out of the oven, freshly turned garden dirt, David just out of the shower…. well I guess we shall stop there.

    • Terrill – To be able to smell snow one has to have a sensitive nose, indeed! I just saw on Facebook that you’ve sold one of your paintings — Fir Tree Sky — at the exhibit. You go, girl!

  3. Laurie,

    are you talking dirty again? What is all of this: “odor stimulates chemoreceptors in the nose, they send electrical impulses to the brain. In turn, the brain interprets patterns in electrical activity as specific odors and olfactory sensation becomes perception that’s linked to the amygdala and hippocampus…” Just kidding

    The first smell I remember is coffee, my grandfather delivered for a coffee company out of Camden NJ, and we use to go there as kids, we even use to ride with him on his route.
    There is the fragrance of honeysuckle and rose early in the spring, that transports me to another place. Fresh herbs basil, rosemary. This could go on for a while!

    • Jeff – You crack me up! Coffeeeeeeeeeeeee, I love that smell too 🙂 Honeysuckle, herbs…. you have a lovely list. I hope you’re enjoying the nice, long, holiday weekend!

  4. Wow this fits in nicely with the book I just reviewed this week about how the brain functions and how we can change our thinking. Neuroplasticity.

    We are more our responses to chemicals in our brain and emotions which provoke habitual thinking…one has to get out of their heads /brains in order to make change. This takes an emotional literacy that is dynamic and well versed and defined.

    After my walk this morning I went by and smelled all the newly opened roses – their fragrance always brings me pain relief and the first blooms of the year always smell the best.

    I read people through my nose – well I read their chemistry quickly and that integrates into an idea …It makes me wonder how I will do listening through emails and phone calls on Wise Ears.

    Although I know I haven’t had my grand opening yet! I still do not have any newsletter sign ups – all the technical learning I have had to do is making me stinky with frustration.

    • PatriciaNeuroplasticity, a little “light reading” for the holiday weekend, huh? You’re going to do a great job listening “between the lines” in emails, and listening to what’s not being said on the phone. I have every confidence in you.

      By the way, the photograph of you on your website — — is great! And I just subscribed via email.

  5. That is easy, the mingled fragrance of honeysuckle and watermelon. It takes me back in time to summer evenings on my grandmother’s front porch. While the adults sat in rocker’s and strung baskets of green beans for canning the next day, we cousins ran wild and barefoot, catching lightning bugs for our lanterns made of mason jars with holes punched in the lids. That scent makes me 8 years old again.

    • Sandi – Honeysuckle and watermelon, what an interesting combination. I can’t say that I’ve ever smelled them at the same time.

      Oh, the days of lightning bug lanterns — I wouldn’t want to go back again, but I like remembering the innocence of it. No worries or cares (our parents were carrying those burdens on their shoulders).

  6. Baby powder! Nothing transports me faster to the past than the smell of baby powder and remembering that soft fuzzy warmth of my daughter and granddaughter. By the way, my mother made “Porcupine Meatballs,” too. All this time, I thought she was just making it up . . .

    • Barbara K. – I forgot about baby powder! Yes, that’ll do it.

      And your mom made “Porcupine Meatballs” too! I KNEW there was a connection. I think we’re probably the only two remaining souls on this planet who came from that particular “mother ship”…

      I hope you’re enjoying a lovely, long, holiday weekend 🙂

  7. I remember a small box I kept tucked away in the back drawer of dresser for years. In it were a few things of my dads. Each time I’d take out the box and open it I’d smell him with me. Same with my mother. I did this for years until during one move that little box mysteriously disappered. Interestingly enough our sense of smell is the last one to go when we die.

  8. The Proust passage is brilliance incarnate. As vivid and sensory as any prose ever written, and truly a great lead in to this awesome post.

    Smell is indeed the sense that best recalls the memories. Your own recollection the rice and meatball dish in your mother’s kitches leads me to harken back to my childhood when the nearby Palisades Amusement Park in northern New Jersey (overlooking the Palisades and the Hudson River and Manhattan) was a place of all kinds of smells that are still with me since the park closes in 1971 after a run of 73 years:

    The above article says it all, and there isn’t a month that goes by that it’s memory isn’t recalled in some way. Getting back to smells, the most dominan were those world famous “vinegar” french fries in the cone cup and the salt-water swimming pool. A trip to that landmark place always involved immersion in those two distinct smells.

    • Sam – Thank you for sharing that link! I love your smell/memory association — what a shame that the amusement park is no longer an experience your children can enjoy as well. When we eat fish and chips (fries) we use a briney vinegar and ohhhhhhhh, the taste 🙂 I hope that you and yours are enjoying a wonderful, long holiday weekend. Due to the holiday I know that you’re posting on Tuesday instead of Monday. I look forward to reading your weekly diary over on Wonders in the Dark tomorrow.

  9. Thank you for your kind words, I had to photoshop the picture because of it being so busy in the background and the angle of the light gave me yellow and grey teeth, but when IT Girl corrected those things, I thought it was a good picture. I am the photographer of the family – and when we were going through some albums we discovered there were almost zero pictures of me. I would like to have a professional pictures taken someday, because all of my family have had one taken and they hang on the wall and it is as though I am mia

    Thank you so much for signing up – email is great 🙂

    I just wanted to say MY MOTHER MADE PORCUPINE Meatballs often when I was growing up – and Shepard’s pie When I shared your ideas with my kids they automatically said they knew we were having something yummy when they smelled the garlic, onions and olive oil beginning the meal.

    The free e-cookbook Harvest Potluck on my Patriciaswisdom site if full of recipes that people connect to LOVE food….there are amazing recipes there from all over…and it leads to a donations link for UNICEF mother and children’s program.. The cook book is free for everyone.

    Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July

    • Patricia – You’re mom made porcuepine meatballs too?! Ohhhhh, there’s more of us on this planet that I thought there were (I still think we’re a minority)… Thank you for letting us know about the free eCookbook.

  10. Night Blooming Jasmine on the island. The breeze carries it quite a ways but you instantly know you are close and begin to scan the area with your eyes before locating the source. My neighbor Cindy has a giant bush and I often clip a piece to bring inside the house at night. Pure bliss.

    • Lisa – Jasmine. Just saying the word makes me smile because of the smell association. Jasmine and Gardenia are two of my favorite flower smells — to my nose they’re heavy, spicy, and utterly decadent.

  11. What a lovely smelling blog! A couple of weeks ago the lupines were blooming along the road and the entire woods smelled like perfume. It was like being in the Garden of Eden. As someone commened up above, I also love the smell of freshly-baked bread. And coffee. The smell of leaves burning in the autumn brings me back to childhood. Thank you for stimulating our memories attached to smells, Laurie.

    • Kathy – Freshly baked bread (I just gained 5 lbs thinking of thick warm slices with melting butter) and coffee. It’s rare that we buy coffee beans, but when we do, I like to lift the acrylic lids of the wooden barrells the beans are stored in and sniff, Sniff, SNIFF!

  12. Oh I love the Proust quote! I can relate to Alison’s experience. I have my grandmother’s blanket chest and when I open it I can still smell her sweet scent. I try not to open it too often so it will linger in there as long as possible. The smell of oatmeal cooking on the stove makes me think of my grandfather on winter mornings – I still make it the way he did. The smell of wild saltspray roses blooming near the beach – bliss!

    • Barbara – I love your smell/memory associations, especially those with your grandparents. I am going to have to Google “wild saltspray roses” — that’s new to me.

  13. Pingback: “Terri,” Eric Rohmer’s “Le Rayon Vert,” “Summer Wars,” Buster Keaton and Sachin Gandhi on Tuesday Morning Diary (July 5) « Wonders in the Dark

  14. Lilac…….huge bushes on the banks of the Mississippi….

    Fresh air——after riding the back seat of a cigar/pipe and cigarette smoker. Ugh……no wonder I got carsick
    Or going down the basement smelling my bro’s wacky tobacco! Ick……..

    A fresh new car……..


    Spray Starch……..grandma ironing

    Formaldehyde——-ha ha……high school anatomy days……

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