The Odors of Memory

A short piece in smell, memory, and writing.

The Past Illuminates: A Fresh Look at Historical Fiction

Our cerebral hemispheres were originally buds from the olfactory stalks. We think because we smelled.

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Smell is one of the strongest means by which we anchor to an experience. It is ancient, seemingly immutable, a means of transport to places which far predate or exceed our own experience. Yet, smell is largely individual, too–our experience of a smell being unique to each of us. In much the same way that the word “chair” causes us to visualize an item of furniture both similar to and different from each other’s visions, smells are experienced as similar and unique for each person.

Red20Pine20ConeWhen we think of odors, such as the smell of a Christmas tree, the smell itself is chain-linked to other memories in sight, sound, and taste, memories that trigger recollection and reverie. By the same token, when we imagine Christmas trees of the future, we recall the smell of trees…

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