The Scent of Pines

I’m sitting on a picnic bench in Water Valley Campground. I take a deep breath, the scent of pine (or spruce or fir) fills my nasal passages, conjuring up happy feelings and sending me on a journey to so many places in my memories.

  • Jasper National Park in the 70s on a family trip. My first and ever-so-memorable time in Canada’s Rocky Mountain parks. Possibly what brought me to the area I’ve lived in now for thirty-five years, with the Rockies just an hour away.
  • Mount Gambier, Australia in 1990. After almost three months of tropics and desert, a hike into the pine trees at the top of a mountain transported a homesick young woman to the Rockies for an afternoon. And now, thirty years later, the same scent in a campground in Water Valley returns her to Mount Gambier.
  • And a plethora of hiking, skiing, and horseback adventures since moving to southern Alberta in the mid-80s.

I’m sure you’ve had the experience at least once in your life, a smell that takes you somewhere, even if you can’t recall just where that is, just the feeling of being there. The regions of the brain that manage smell, memory and emotion are closely connected, making our sense of smell wired to the brain more directly than our other senses.

There are a lot of smells that connect me to my life with horses—hay, leather, shavings, and yes, manure. The combination of these things is like perfume to the horse lover, bringing a sense of well-being whenever I walk into the barn and the scents make their way to my olfactory bulb. But the one that transports me by express train to those early, idyllic days as a horse-crazy girl is that indescribable aroma of equine that comes through their skin. If you’ve never put your nose on a horse’s neck and taken a deep breath, especially on a warm day … well, just do it sometime. I have rescued many a bad day by simply burying my nose under a horse’s mane.

So, meanwhile, back at Water Valley, the spring sun is shining on my face, the Chinook wind is whooshing through the trees overhead, and the smell of pine is reminding me of all that is good in the world, in my world. Despite the pandemic that drags on and the ugliness I see online, I remember how fortunate I am to live in a country as diverse and beautiful as Canada, to have so many natural places to explore, and people in my life who appreciate these same gifts.

I’d love to hear your stories of a scent taking you on a journey to a place or time or person. Please share.

2 thoughts on “The Scent of Pines

  1. Thank you for the uplifting read Teresa. I totally relate with smells triggering memories, including your favorite, which is also one of mine. I must visit a horse as soon as possible 😉

  2. My “smell experience” goes back 45 years. I grew up in the parkland region of Alberta, one of mixed farming that included grain, animals, and hay. We lived in the country, on an acre of land carved out of a farmer’s field. I moved to the city at age 18. On a summer visit summer about 10 years later, driving in a car with open windows, I was suddenly transported to my childhood summers. It was alfalfa, grown for hay, that happened to be in full fragrant bloom that day. What surprises me is how vividly and viscerally I remember that experience. Until then, the concept that smells can trigger memories was just theoretical. Now I know it’s true.

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