In my mind, I think of winter being void of all smell. The deep freeze should make the sense of smell bed down for the winter. In truth, winter seems to heighten it. As I ride around town, wood smoke punctures the clean, crisp air. Bacon grease wafts through kitchens, driven out by exhaust fans, only to have it's heavy fat stick to the inside of my nostrils. Cigarette smoke finds it's way out of the smallest break in a car's sealant. I hold my breath as long as I can and wish I could only smell wood smoke again.
I find myself being overwhelmed by this sense, not unlike after the first spring rain. And yet, everything seems so different. In winter, smells seem harsh to me, not soft like in April. Maybe it's just my imagination, or maybe it's because each smell is being carried by cutting air, directly into my already sensitive lungs, with only a thin layer of wool or synthetic to filter them out. When the temps drop below 20, there is no moisture left in the air to collect the smells and bring them down to the ground, so they float around searching for warmth and water--something to cling to--my nose and lungs must make a nice host.
Each year I am taken aback by this. It shocks me as if the world has somehow changed overnight. In some ways it has. Last night, I rode up to a bar to see some friends play music. It was my first truly "winter" ride of the year. I was cold, as anyone might be riding around in jeans in 20 degrees. I felt alive, invigorated, in tune--until I walked into the bar. Within seconds, I was hit by a wall of stale beer, cigarette smoke, body odor, cheap perfume and acrylic. It took me back to my time spent up in Ely, Minnesota, with winters being so very harsh up there, and the locals essentially living in bars. Although smoking is no longer allowed in the bars, folks take turns, often times in packs, heading out to smoke. They come back in with a cloud following them. Because it's cold, and because Midwesterner's love their cheese and meat, an aura of old grease seems to circle their bodies, mixing with the smoke. They too can smell this, and so they cover it up with perfume or cologne. Beer just adds to the toxic cocktail and I find myself getting a bit woozy. I dream of the outdoors once again and think even the old sled dogs I used to work with smelled better.
Back on my bike, after the show, I sense ice in the air. It smells like a mixture of mineral and metal. It smells cold and clean. My lungs take it in, as if it's pure oxygen, even though it burns a bit. I smile, happy to be under the star laden sky, away from pollution with only the music still surrounding me.