Hunger


I’ve been thinking about aromas.

When I was in college, the popular scent was patchouli. You could smell it in classrooms, dorms, practice rooms, the library…pretty much everywhere. I could never understand why women liked it. To me, it smelled like dirt. And not that fresh soil smell that rises into the air after a summer rain, promising the emergence of a range floral essences. No, patchouli was more on the order of earth worms to me, amassing on every pathway after a storm, making each step a challenge to avoid a nasty squish underfoot.

Dirt.

My mother wore Shalimar. It mixed with her chemistry in a way that made her smell like warm cookies—heady with vanilla and something other…exotic. Every so often, when I was out with her, I’d catch someone behind her sniffing and I’d smile, imagining them running off to a nearby bakery to nourish themselves with that fragrance, fill the need it aroused.

Cookies.

In the natural world, there are fragrances that evoke the same response.

Honeysuckle is one of them. It grew in abundance where I lived, and I used to pick the white blooms and suck the nectar from them. No one ever told me not to. I doubt I would have listened if they did. It was one of the pleasures of childhood, being lured by their scent, knowing the rewards they’d deliver.

The other is clover, which is flourishing this year.

I’m a simple person at heart, I think. Over the years I’ve sampled all forms of honey—wildflower, acacia, blueberry, orange blossom, but I keep going back to clover honey. I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me that the elusive fragrance I have caught on so many walks might be emanating from those small white and pink blossoms…

…until yesterday, when the scent was so overwhelming I had to stop and inhale—a true singer’s breath, the kind I learned to take before a long demanding phrase—and close my eyes, to draw it into my spirit as well as my lungs. When I opened them again, and looked down, I saw the grass overgrown with flowers, and picked one. And sniffed.

And I was so very hungry.

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Therapy

Have you ever noticed a scent coming back to you hours or days after you inhaled it, as fresh and as potent as it was? And have you noticed that memories associated with that scent come rushing back as well? And that the same thing happens with objects you may see? Or sounds you may hear? A train whistle fading as it passes, a siren rushing to an emergency? Wind chimes warning of an approaching storm?

My head has been swarming with thoughts and memories, dredged up by sensory overload. I could drown out the noise by focusing on yet another volume of fictional angst and fury that dwarfs my own, as I have been doing the past month, but today I yearn only to bake bread.

There’s something wholly satisfying about proofing yeast, the stringent, heady vapors it produces, blending ingredients, small batches at a time until they form a dough that can be twisted, pounded, and kneaded into a satiny mass, rolled into a greased bowl and left to rise, only to be worked again. And when the dough is ready to bake—having been dressed with beaten egg or butter, its aroma rises from the oven, saturating the air, replacing all the other offending scents and sights and sounds with the knowledge that nourishment and pleasure are in the future, along with the joy of that first warm bite, slathered with honey or butter or nothing.

How sweet to look at that glistening, golden braid, or round, or loaf, and say, I made that. How thoroughly soothing; how incomparably delicious.

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