Aromatic Memories

Smells have amazing powers. They can conjure spirits.

I was chopping parsley and mint the other day to put in dinner and, as the combined smell wafted from the cutting board, I though of Rhian Jones.

I shared a house with Rhian and five other women during my last year at university. Yellow House, as we called the brightly painted Edwardian edifice, was a good place to live. Though all seven of us had different majors and different personalities, we shared a desire to make the place feel like home.

We all enjoyed cooking, and regularly shared food. Rhian made tabbouleh that sang with flavour. “Granny’s” tabbouleh, because the recipe came from her grandmother. I still have that recipe.

I haven’t thought about Rhian for years, but the mix of herbs under my knife the other day drew her into my kitchen. I heard her infectious snorting laughter, remembered her vast collection of colourful bras, and tasted her granny’s tabbouleh shared among us on hot summer days.

I don’t know what became of any of my housemates from that year, but it was lovely to have Rhian laughing in my kitchen thirty years later. I hope wherever she is, she’s still making tabbouleh.

Eau de Paddock

The smell of cattle and rank pasture grasses.

Most of you are saying, “Ew! Disgusting!”

But a few, I’m sure, are thinking, “Yep! Nothing else says summer like that smell.”

And I can guess that, if you’re in the second group, you grew up running barefoot through yours or the neighbours paddocks as a kid. You hopped the fence, dodged the cows (or if you were unlucky, the bull), and swished through tall grass to the creek where you’d wade in the ankle-deep water for hours in the hot sun, catching crayfish, water striders, and dragonfly nymphs. You’d follow the trickle upstream to ‘the dam’, made by countless ten-year-old hands over decades of summers. The pool behind the dam always teemed with minnows, and you’d stand still, hands outstretched in the water hoping to catch one.

The whirligig beetles loved the pool behind the dam, too, and their jiggling, twirling dance on the water’s surface sent ripples across the water, bouncing and refracting into mesmerising patterns.

All the while, the sun heated grass and cow pies, and the perfume of the paddock hung in the hot air and clung to the back of your neck like your sweaty hair.

And when the sun finally began to sink in the west, and you knew dinner was waiting for you at home, you’d climb up from the stream and swish through the paddock again, the cows further off now, in the lengthening shade of the trees. You’d climb back over the fence and take one last, deep breath, storing the summer day, and saving it for tomorrow.

And now, forty years later, you drive past a paddock on a hot day, and in a single breath, you are suddenly ten again, ankle-deep in a creek catching crayfish.