Olfactory Stimulation via Woodsmoke

After a summer of devastating forest fires across North America and beyond, including the horrific scenes from Glacia, it seems uncouth to talk about fire in any sort of positive way.

However, when contained and managed, fire has been a crucial part of survival, and part of life on earth for . . . I have no idea how long. A long time; like, since cave-person time. Heat. Cooking. Smoking. Light. Safety. Even a benefit to some types of reforestation.

This isn’t about the history or practical applications of fire, nor is it about fire safety. Tonight, I am inhaling the simple and odour of woodsmoke at it’s glorious, emotionally evocative best. Light wisps ride on the breeze, mixing with the crisp smells that only autumn can provide. I smell fall — an indescribable and immeasurable sense of the season is ripe and rampant outside. It’s slightly damp, but not enough to be offensive. The energy and life of decaying leaves composting and returning to the soil is a flag for my nostrils. This is life. This is death. This is the ever-changing richness of an ecosystem working.

Going out on a limb (pardon the pun) I’m going to say that woodsmoke is possibly THE most sentimental smell in the universe for me. The associations are pouring from vague memories, carrying mysterious feelings of nostalgia that aren’t tied to any one time or place. Am I travelling into the evolutionary past, connecting to some primative place where my brain recalls families and fires and fields and forest? Is this even possible, given my British genealogy? Was part of me there, with my ancestors? When we were hunters and gatherers, or when agricultural society began.

Whatever the reason, I’m stirred beyond comprehension. That smell is loaded with meanings that don’t seem to make sense.

It’s possible that all these potent feelings have been birthed in my lifetime, I guess.

I’d sit in an old rocking chair, with my feet close to the glass of the old stove, watching happily ever after play out, certain that I would be just like Meaghan Follows as Anne of Green Gables. Then later, reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s works in their entirety, still believing that if I wasn’t going to be Anne with an ‘e’, my Gilbert would appear and we’d live the idyllic forever together. It’s strange to look back and realize that I’d much rather be with Meaghan Follows or Sarah Polley than I would any of the ‘charming’ gentlemen portrayed in those stories — and I’d much rather know real people with flaws, passion, creativity and integrity than I would be deluded by idealistic literary characters. Right, back to the woodsmoke.

I remember a hundred summer evenings; rounds of perfectly tuned and diverse overlapping voices flowing with comaraderie and love among my camp sisters, gathered in a ring around campfires some twenty years ago. How does that feeling still remain unparalled? Nothing in my adult life quite breeds the same sense of belonging, of being inside and in harmony with the loon calls on the lake, and woven in with invisible threads spun from the tails of meteors and sewed into the seams of the heart.

Perhaps there is something to that youthful innocence, a dream-like state that can only be experienced when you have faith in humanity and hope for the world.

But tonight, no more thinking. Just enjoy the smell, and the peaceful calm it instills within. Woodsmoke.