The Passing of a Moment


After writing out the exercise in yesterday’s post, I grabbed my favourite red fleecy blanket and went outside to sit on the lawn in my back garden.  I laid it out on the slightly damp grass, sat down, and closed my eyes.  For a while my mind was busy with all the daily minutiae: the housework that was still waiting to be started, the reading I need to finish, the fish bowl I should clean etc.  Then, after a wee while, I began to let these nagging thoughts go, and I started to listen to the sounds of the garden…

The flapping wings of a passing magpie, the chorus of creaks as the window frames expand in the heat, the low buzz of a bumblebee, the high pitched whine of a small insect, a neighbourhood car’s engine turning over,  the far away squawk of a seagull, the drone of passing aircraft, the flap of laundry as it dried in the breeze.

While I was capable of identifying all these different sounds, I quickly realised that when I turned my attention to what I could smell, I could only identify one fragrance, and that was of the fabric conditioner as it wafted down from the laundry to where I was sitting.  It makes me wonder whether I’ve neglected one of my main ways of sensing the world around me to the point where I can no longer notice it.

Have you read the Patrick Suskind book, Perfume?  It is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read, as so much of the description is articulated through an exploration of scent.  When I read that book, I found myself thinking, ‘Yes, I know that smell, and that’s exactly what it smells like.’  One of my favourite passages in it is when a wet nurse is describing the smell of newborn babies:

‘Well, it’s -‘ the wet nurse began, ‘it’s not all that easy to say, because… because they don’t smell the same all over, although they smell good all over, Father, you know what I mean?  Their feet for instance, they smell like a smooth warm stone – or no, more like curds… or like butter, like fresh butter, that’s it exactly.  They smell like fresh butter.  And their bodies smell like… like a pancake that’s been soaked in milk.  And their heads, up on top, at the back of the head, where the hair makes a cowlick, there… There, right there, is where they smell best of all.  It smells like caramel, it smells so sweet, so wonderful, Father, you have no idea!’

Perfume by Patrick Suskind, pp. 12-13

Isn’t that an incredible description which focuses entirely on smell?  I think today, I’m going to concentrate on the scents I inhale, and see if I can increase my own awareness of a sense I’ve clearly neglected for too long.

What did you discover when you did the exercise?  Are there some senses available to you that you are not fully experiencing?  How can you enhance your awareness of them?


June 5, 2008. Environment.


  1. Darren Daz Cox replied:

    I will be thinking of this as I walk on the beach in a few minutes, it’s a little gloomy from the recent storms and things are wet but warm….

  2. Kacey replied:

    I am tuned into smells. Sometimes too much so… I planted lavender right out my front door so I can get a “hit” of it when I’m coming and going. Lavender has to be my favorite smell.

  3. Lenora replied:

    I did your exercise yesterday in my garden and found my favorite smells included the honeysuckle that fills the air so sweetly. I remembered childhood moments eating and smelling grape popsicles when purple petunia fragrance rose up to greet me yesterday. I felt as free as a kid on summer vacation. My favorite smell of all was the asiatic lilly that transported me to tropical days in Tahiti. This aroma therapy exercise quieted my mind and body, preparing me for an extremely busy weekend when I host a graduation party of 150 people. Thank you, and I’m glad I found your beautiful blog.

  4. annhandley replied:

    Nice, thoughtful post, Amy. Thanks for this small break in my day.

  5. Karen Swim replied:

    Amy, I have typed and retyped a sentence 3 times already, lol so clearly my senses are not quite awake yet! Smell is a powerful sense and has the ability to evoke memories. Cinnamon is comforting and reminds me of my mom baking and coooking, lavender always soothes me and the smell of the ocean brings back fond memories of home. Yet, I am not always fully attuned to smell as I am to sight or hearing. Now I am going to grab caffeine to awaken all of my senses! 🙂


  6. wendikelly replied:

    Lavender and roses for me too.

    I have lavender, rosemary, and roses and basel growing outside my front dores and my back door. When I walk past my sidewalk it is an unconcious habit to brush my fingers against the lavender or the petals of the roses in the spring and summer.
    In the fall, I pot op the lavender, basel and rosemary and bring them in for the winter and they live in the kitchen in the large kitchen window.
    If I am enjoying a good book, I love to take a spring of lavender and plce it on the inside cover, so that when I open the book, the scent greets me.

  7. Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching replied:

    Kēia Manawa, Ishly and the Hibiscus Cocktail…

    Just talking story… about the practice of being fully present. We hear most coaching about being “fully present” in regard to giving our full attention to other people. In conversation, with Kuleana (our responsibilities), as focus and intention …

  8. amypalko replied:

    Sounds great, Daz. I hope you enjoy 🙂

    Oh, I love lavender too, Kacey. I have quite a lot of it in my garden, but it’s not quite flowering yet. Maybe next month…

    I’m so glad you gave it a go, Lenora, and that you chose to come back here and share your experience. It really is very much appreciated 🙂

    You are most welcome, Ann. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Those three smells that you mention are all extremely evocative for me too, Karen. Thank you so much for sharing them 🙂

    That sounds just lovely, Wendikelly. Thank you so much for sharing the suggestion. I may bery well take it up!

  9. tommy replied:

    _Perfume_ is a lovely book, dark & poetic and as you note, rich with sensory insight.

    Our lives would be enhanced with more attention to the odors around us. Possibly safer too if we could learn to detect dangerous chemicals and perhaps even medical conditions.

    One reason that we neglect this basic sense is that we have no language to describe it. We have 100 words to depict variations of the color ‘red’. We have a language for musical sounds. We have essentially (pun intended) nothing for smell- something either stinks or smells nice.

    In my life, I have a primal connection to the smell of mothballs, oriental carpets and my grandparents house. I have no word for this smell, and few living people are familiar with the concept of mothball or the odor. I have no way to share this sensory experience in speech or writing to a general audience.

    A ‘less ordinary’ reader may be clever enough to begin an orderly language for the description of scents. Such a ‘less ordinary’ person might begin with the words of an epicure, dégustateur and sommelier in building a standard language that we can all agree to about basic odors and their variations.

    Just as they do with colors, children would be exposed to standard samples of each scent as they learn the descriptive words.

    As we do with color and sound we can build on this new sensory language to enhance our poetry and our lives.

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