I argued about using this piece title for fear of getting off on the wrong foot by causing readers to think I might be bright enough to try word play using scents in place of sense. Well, it’s not that a person can’t look in hundreds of places and not find an immediate harvest ranging from small sensible silliness to whopping big monsters of human stupidity in amazing acts lacking of sense. This is true in all areas from politics with dummies on the left going at dummies from the right and going on to the higher planes of education where self-esteem is seen as such a delicate thing everyone must be called brightly gifted with the result that too many come away without much more than feeling good about not being very good at things. About all that does (so far as I can tell) is gift the public with a lot more people ideally inclined toward political ambitions or as educational theorists, both classes about as useful and practical as poets and lamplighters.
For someone who wanted to avoid the above tangent I did a poor job of missing it, but then what better way to get to a possibly confusing point than by first-off pointing out what it is not. In this case by stating I actually mean scents and not sense or sensibility. The waking of spring is a return of scent replacing the chill of winter air made bone dry by sub-zero wringing everything from it. I’m not being critical of winter. I love scenes of wet-heavy snow draping boughs in December, the blinding bright glory of a February day, and the miracle appearance of snow fleas in snowy depressions on a late March afternoon. Those and many more are winter wonders, but you can’t really smell them, at least I’ve never stuck my nose in a snow flea’s private life to get a sniff of anything.

There are, of course, winter smells, but I think we’d find them primarily indoors. This may have been more so in the past. At least I think it so based on recollections of grammar (a word rolling in associative meanings) school cloakrooms with five buckle black rubber galoshes covering the floor and woolen mitts and coats hung with distinct woolly odors rising. The dark, odorous cave of the cloakroom has largely disappeared, but even if it was there a bunch of snow damp nylon jumpers won’t smell like much even if their young owners are reluctant bathers. In the land of scent a wet woolen will triumph over damp acrylic as sharp cheddar does over American. One other smell evocative of winter is wood smoke, an odor you don’t want indoors but which slips in a little bit each time the firebox us fueled or strong winds balk the natural draft. Outdoors you can pass a house and in catching a single stray sniff can tell if a wood stove is fueled with wet or seasoned wood along with near certain id on the species; pine, aspen, ash, birch, and maple each has a signature scent.

If the olfactory winter desert gave way in a quick blast our senses might be overwhelmed in a sudden shift from starvation to glut. It is nature’s kindness to ease us back into the realm of scent instead of delivering a mace-dose to the face. The first hints of thaw release organic odors kept refrigerated and dormant during the long haul of cold. It’s not much, but it is the start, one with a daily setback of frosty nights slowing an already unhurried process. One of the bigger scents of spring is the first whiff of green grass, an odor full of lively promise as the bright green it comes from. A competing spring scent is pollen, which we don’t really smell but which anyone with an allergy knows is present well before the first yellow haze of pollen tints the windshield with microscopic dots. On inland lakes you’ll find side bays and downwind shores streaked with the golden abundance of nature kicking into gear for the short frantic months of growing. It’s a lovely thing to see the harbingers of spring; robin red breast or members of the tulip and crocus clans. But the first lung filling draught of air fresh with new made oxygen goes deeper inside than the robin’s call or near scentless (except to certain insects) air of the tulip. Spring is the smell of grass rioting up in a chaos of wild growing that does near as much in a few weeks as all the rest of the summer to follow.

Another specialty of spring scents is the subtle blend a simple walk will mix to fluid perfection. One minute passing along a sunny patch the air is flooded with rich organics of black soils. Then like a watery curtain the air shifts its contents in the presence of shade where winter hangs under the balsam boughs and sphagnum insulates the ground from spring’s first heat. In a few weeks’ time this shift will even out to a brief intersection in early morning where the dewy mist recalls the winter the rising sun chases away on rising airs.

The delicate stabs of spring scent will be replaced by the heavier fulfillment of summer so abundant we take for granted the steady flow of freshly generated oxygen grown in chlorophyll rich cells. The rush of generation continues until one day in August a single tree gives up and sends a scatter of gold leaves falling at its feet. There are always a few in the van. Others will follow to turn fall into the richest season of scent, as if we need stock up on stored scent memory before the sterilizing chill sets the scale near zero. Walking through aspens half shed of leaves is an encounter with the sweetest scents and sense of summer as only lungs and heart can know.