One of the highlights of my summer is spending time at our summer retreat on Martha’s Vineyard. This year we went for a few days around July 4th. The rains of the preceding two weeks had stopped and the greenery was more lush than it usually looks in August, when we usually visit.
While the many colors of huge hydrangeas never ceased to cause our heads to turn (a dangerous activity when on a bike or a driver in the car), it was the smells in the air that were the most distracting and filled our usually underwhelmed senses of smell with a beautiful memory that has yet to fade, even as I sit in Logan airport waiting to fly back to Buffalo. The sense of smell is like that. It is a very old sense (evolutionarily speaking) which lingers in the memory, often conjured up from past pleasantly as a smell from grandma’s cooking. Alas, it is the sense most underdeveloped in humans.
Honey suckle, roses, and of all types hydrangeas were the ones I could most readily identify. These smells were most noticeable on the tennis court which is surrounded with plants that have nothing better to do than give off such a delectable aroma while I am trying to concentrate on returning a lob or making that ace. I felt drunk on these scents. My tennis game sublimated to the aroma in the air. Not so good for my double’s partners.
As an ear, nose and throat doctor, I have a responsibility for how people perceive odors. I occasionally see a child who doesn’t know he or she cannot experience a sense of smell like others because their nose has been stuffed their whole lives from enlarged adenoids or chronic sinus infections. Rarely we have an older teen who might have no sense of smell or a distorted sense of smell and then we have to think of rare problems such as a tumor of the base of the brain where those nerves exit into the nose. But these patients are few and if you see one in a lifetime of practice, it is unusual.
So when faced with the cacophany (I know that word typically applies to sounds, but it’s as close as I can come to describing an overwhelming array of pleasant odors that assault my thankfully non-allergic nose) of smells, I reach a new level of awareness of the beauty around me that I can easily miss.
Yes, stop and smell the roses, and the honey suckle (my favorite) and hydrangeas and all the other flowers that are graced with special smell that fill up your sense of smell (and sight) and leave you yearning for more. But as the summer soon passes, so do these smells. Take them in while you can.