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A journey of smells

     Okay. Alright. You knew it was coming and you're right. If I could write all that nonsense about wiggling ears, I was sure to go on about some other part of the body. And I am. The nose.

     I'm not going to suggest that you wiggle it—the nose takes care of itself. Does its job 24 hours a day, whether you want it to or not. There's no turning off a nose.

     Generally we don't even think about our noses. Well, sometimes— when we're combing our hair in front of the mirror. But then we usually turn around and go about our business, forgetting all about that nose until the scent of burnt toast scurries up to our nose to remind us, "Hey! You were supposed to fix the toaster!"

     The nose. We never have to remember to turn it on—or replace the batteries. Better than that, our noses provide pleasure at the most unexpected moments. Which reminds me, I've been wanting to tell you about my "Smell Trip."

     It was, appropriately, a trip we took in the fall. You might remember, from a previous column, the infamous Shovelbird which came home with us. He, unfortunately, missed out on the smells, due to his artificially crafted nose. But if you ever happen to find yourself driving through the Northwest in the fall, I highly recommend that you open your car windows as often as possible. You never know what surprises your nose will bring.

     As we traveled through California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, I tried to turn up the volume on my smell register. Well, that just doesn't work. But after we encountered our first delicious smell, I left the windows open more often than usual.

     Uh-oh. I'm in trouble now. Our first delicious smell wasn't delicious. It was the pungent aroma of the cattle yards near Adelanto. We hadn't planned ahead—meaning we hadn't shut the windows.

     I immediately shut down my olfactory senses. Well as you know, you can't turn off your nose. Closing the windows helped, but not much. By then, the smell had settled in to stay. All we could do was keep driving. When we were far enough away from the source of the smell, we opened the windows wide.

     Ahhh—the familiar odor of Burger King hamburgers. Back to the cattle, I see. Different perspective.

     Later that afternoon, an unusual smell came through the now-closed windows. We opened them to an unbelievably pleasurable smell of potpourri—gentle, but pungent—not like anything I'd smelled before. Where was it coming from? Were we imagining it?

     We were driving through the town of Walker, just north of Mono Lake, with its surreal reflection of gray-gold mountains and white wisps of clouds. The smell was an "absolutely have to come back for a refill" kind of smell. My nose wiggled. Yes, it did. The smell was so enticing, so delicious. My nose and I couldn't get enough of it.

     Sagebrush and cedar trees grew wild on both sides of the road. Maybe there was another ingredient in this delightful elixir, but I'm sure I'll never know. The smell accompanied us for miles and miles. I collected a few pieces of sage and the tip of a cedar branch, but I couldn't recreate that awe-inspiring smell.

     Two days later, about five miles south of the Columbia River in Oregon, a new smell wafted in. Autumn haze filled the sky, The hazy smoke smelled like autumn leaves burning. Ahead of us acres of leaping orange-red flames danced across the stubble of recently harvested grain fields. A lone farmer stood at the edge of the flames, controlling the burn with what appeared to be a simple garden hose.

     When I opened the window for more of the fragrant scent a blast of heat, hotter than I've ever felt, slammed into us. I shut the window as fast as I could. The smoky smell lingered, fading slowly as the flames disappeared behind us.

     Toward evening of the next day, in Montana, we were treated to yet another smell. Again, a smoky smell, but this one was flavored—a sort of gourmet ranch smell. From behind sparsely scattered houses nestled in the heavily forested hills along the Clark Fork River, thin spirals of smoke drifted lazily into the sky from what looked like miniature log cabins behind the scattered houses. The "log cabins" were smokehouses.

     The rich aroma of beef being jerky-ed awakened our appetites and we took in as much of the scent as we could before driving to our next destination—dinner in Butte. As we drove, the evening sky turned shades of pale pink lavender and our noses—always on the job—brought us one last smell, ending our day with the sweet smell of fresh-mown hay.

     It truly was a journey of smells. The nose is a marvelous instrument. It might not wiggle, and you might not think about it a lot—but it never falls asleep on the job. Be sure to take it with you on your next trip. And don't turn it off. . .

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