The Smell of Summer
“Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” Sarah Dessen
Running along the beach, the sun was casting rays over the horizon, creating vibrant ribbons of color in the sky. Hues of pink, yellow, red, blue, setting the landscape for a beautiful evening along the Baltic coast. Keeping in step with my partner, we were running along a path filled with pedestrians out for an evening stroll. Passing by families with their dogs and tourists blazing by on bikes, there was euphoria in the air.
We raced along the footpath. Running, not being one of my strong suits, was slowly becoming more natural. Higher temperatures and longer days had arrived in Poland’s summer capital, and it was very evident. The beaches were alive with activity. Groups and individuals gathered, relaxing, reading, cuddling, bathing the setting sun’s warm light. A gentle strum of a guitar came from some far off group of twenty-some’s laughing and having a merry time.
Stride after stride the air changed. Crisp sea breezes lingered with aromas of sweet hickory, smoked meats, and grilled seafood. Fragrant smells of charcoal, waffles, and freshly brewed coffee wafted up into the air. It was all so alluring, beckoning me to commit a sin and leave my exercise for another day, but I didn’t give into my weakness.
Encountering such smells along our run made me reminisce about summers past, to my childhood growing up in small town, Victor, Iowa. Farmers tilling the land, Friday night baseball games, barbecues, parades, picnics, running with sparklers through the street, firecrackers, sweet corn on the cob slathered in butter, and homemade ice cream. Every new aroma I encountered took me further back in time. My eyes were wide open; it felt like I was present, but my mind was a flutter with thoughts of yesteryear. I was invigorated by my imagination recreating memories that did not seem in fact so distant at all.
A few months before this, I was chatting with a yoga instructor, a friend of mine. He had just met a blind yoga instructor in London taking her workshop in Covent Garden. A blind yoga instructor… how is this possible? You may ask. Impossible you may think.
The instructor had an acute sense of her body. Maybe even a better awareness than other instructors in the field. Her awareness was heightened without vision. My friend found this very inspirational and wanted to incorporate this mindfulness into his own classes. One night in particular he asked his students to begin the practice with their eyes closed. I was among the students.
How does this pertain to my run you may be wondering? As I made my way into the night, pacing one stride after another, encountering such pleasant aromas that triggered memories of days gone by, it made me think about my own acute awareness. My sense of smell and how I can associate certain experiences with various fragrances. If you close your eyes, become only temporally blind, what do the smells remind you of? How do they make you feel? Memories may come to light, family gatherings, State Fairs and roasting marshmallows around the campfire were only a few reminders of home that fluttered through my mind as I kept pace. The visions overwhelmed me as I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, I felt like I was at home. I had not felt that sense of comfort and security in such a long time.
It is not only higher temperatures and blue clear skies that characterize summer in my eyes, but a feeling that has so much more meaning. The smells of summer ushered in a whole new awareness of place. Halfway across the globe, I could transcend the miles, the kilometers and find myself enjoying the familiar in a not-so-familiar place.