Sunday, September 23, 2012

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Young chinook salmon

As I began reading the new challenge, "the scent of a memory", my mind immediately flashed to salmon.  In my research days, I was always fascinated by the idea that the young salmon, at a sensitive stage in their development would undergo olfactory imprinting of their natal waters.

From that stream, they'd swim to sea and travel, sometimes thousands of miles, before navigating their way back using olfactory cues to find those same natal waters to spawn in.  Amazing!  I contemplated how oil spills and other pollutants might affect that sense and the longterm impacts of exposure, how this contributed to the observed decline and collapse of certain runs.......but I digress.

Reading on, I realized my amazing fish concept wasn't going to really address the challenge so I considered other possibilities. A lot of fairly "generic" scent memories came to mind; peonies remind me of my father's garden, daffodils and Easter, bread baking would be my mother, Baby Magic Baby Wash - my older sons and so on.

Reflecting on the things that come to mind, it seems almost all of the really "profound" scent memories, those that connect a scent with a scene, I can conjure are from my teens.  Patchouli.  Hawaiian Surf.  Makes me wonder if being jacked up on all those hormones affects our sense of smell (too) - whether it is the equivalent of the fish stage when they're imprinting, adapting to saltwater and moving out to sea?  Whenever I smell the scent of pine needles baking in the sun in the forest I am transported to a time in my teens spent in the mountains of New Mexico. "Las Tusas: Ponderosa Pine" was actually conceived from that memory.

I'm totally unsure where I am headed with this challenge, at the moment.  I feel like it hasn't come to me yet, but I'm enjoying rifling through memories and considering how I could depict them.  It will be interesting to see what others create!

"Las Tusas: Ponderosa Pine"
©2011, 46" X 37"


  1. I think you have hit on something there, Martha, about the hormones and scent imprinting. All my most vivid scent memories are from my teen years; apple pies baking, salt air during beach parties, certain colognes of the time. Can't wait to see how this challenge is interpreted by the members, as they have all been wonderful to behold!