Sensory Connections – Tranquil Thursday #7

A black and white photo of a solitary boat on a lake

Have you ever wondered why we associate certain scents with strong memories? It’s science, my friends. Of all the sensory sensations, smell follows a different route into the brain.

All sensory information, with the exception of scents and smells, are immediately processed in the thalamus. The thalamus serves as a gate keeper for these sensations. It routes these sensations to the cerebral cortex for interpretation. Was that hot? Was that pain? Was that pleasurable?

With smells, however, the thalamus is bypassed. Scents are routed directly to the olfactory bulb where the smell is translated into a signal the brain can process. From there, the sensation is routed to the amygdala (which processes emotions) and then on to the hippocampus which controls learning and memory.

This is why we often have deeper memory associations with smells and scents than we do with other sensory memories.

So, today, think of some situations when you were transported by a smell, or simply tell me what memories you associate with certain smells.

My answers follow below.

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Sometimes when I am alone in my car I will smell either strong coffee or cigarette smoke. I do not know where the smells originate in the present, but they always transport me to a memory of my father. This happens to my daughter as well. It is not unusual for either of us to phone the other and relate the experience. We like to think it in his presence in those moments.

When I visited my Dad, I often got up in the night to go to the bathroom. I could see the red glow of his cigarette in the darkness as he sat on the barstool in the kitchen staring out the window. I would give him a hug and he would tell me he couldn’t sleep. He would tell me to go back to bed and get my rest. I could always tell his thoughts had transported him a million miles away.

The smell of fresh cut wood and sawdust always call up memories of my maternal grandfather’s wood shop. I can see wood shavings on the floor and his machines bolted to the workbench. It was such a small space to have created the mass of furniture that filled my grandparents’ house. Those pieces of furniture are spread among his grandchildren now. A table he made from ebony he brought back from the Phillipines sits in my bedroom.

Summer rain and the smell of honeysuckle transport me back to the Valley. I remember clearly how my paternal grandfather taught me to read the trees and the sky for signs of a coming rain. Such a simple yet evocative moment.

Even though he no longer uses it, the smell of Mennen Skin Bracer after shave will forever remind of my husband. Much like Old Spice will always make me think of my father.

For me,
you are fresh water
that falls from trees
when it has stopped raining. For me,
you are cinnamon that lingers
on the tongue and gives
bitter words
For me, you are the scent of
violins and vision
of valleys
And still,
for me, your loveliness never ends.
It traverses
the world
and finds its
way back to me.
― Kamand Kojouri


48 thoughts on “Sensory Connections – Tranquil Thursday #7”

  1. I didn’t know this about how scents work within your brain to prompt memories. Fascinating. One scent that takes me back instantly is the smell of banana bread baking. I think of my mother in her kitchen, listening to James Taylor on the stereo, and dancing around as she washed up the dishes. Happy in her own little world.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I found it fascinating, too, Ally. What miraculous creatures we are!

      I can picture the image of your mother. I am glad you carry that memory with you. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Old Spice reminds me of my dad as well. I know a few years after he died, I found one of his sweaters in my back closet. I inhaled its fragrance and sat down and started to cry. It was so powerful.
    When I bake bread, I always feel my mother there with me. I should bake bread more often.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Old Spice- yes, but for me even more the scent of English Leather which became my dads signature smell. I remember about 4 months after he passed, we had inherited his truck. Never any scent inside except for old truck smell. One night I got in and was enveloped in the smell of English Leather. I don’t think that I’ve smelled that scent again ever-anywhere.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Love this, Maggie…thanks for sharing more of the science/biology behind the olfactory sense — good stuff! I have no idea why, but the first thing I thought of was the smell of Tabu perfume. I had an aunt who loved the scent, and I never met another person who wore it until I was in an elevator with a woman and I couldn’t get over the flood of memories about my aunt. It took me a minute, but I realized the lady smelled of Tabu — whether it was Tabu, or just a similar scent. Thanks for prompt a dear memory, Maggie! 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In my early 20s Tabu was my fragrance of choice. It has a very distinct scent. I am always pleased when these posts bring up good memories. Tabu is a statement fragrance which tells me a bit about your aunt. Savor the memory.

      I had very little understanding of the science. I was intrigued to learn more.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What?!?! Oh geez…that’s a little eerie and fun – I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone other than my aunt who wore Tabu (not counting the elevator lady). I’m getting fun “Maggie” chills! 😉😉😉

        Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, Maggie. Who knows what our fun Tabu connection means? For me, I’ll just take it as a sign – reminding me that I’m grateful we’ve met! And my aunt???? She was my favorite…one amazing woman. True of you, too I say! 🥰🥰🥰

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Sawdust is such a distinct smell, Leon. I remember the smells lingering on my grandfather’s clothing. Pine – real pine – gives me a sense of home. I can see how the smell would take you back to a familiar place.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Even unpleasant smells can bring back good memories as this poem I wrote shows:

        Not Always a Bad Thing

        On a hot summer day
        The smell of diesel and tepid water
        Reminded me
        Of walking in a Caribbean town
        I lingered
        For a moment

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Such a lovely poem, Leon. I remember the pungent smell of fish left on a drawbridge in Florida. The memory, however, was a remarkable day fishing with my father.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Bread baking in the oven always takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. I remember her in her dress and apron, moving around the small kitchen.


    1. Fresh bread baking is the best smell. There is something magical about a grandmother’s kitchen. I would be willing to bet it tasted as good as it smelled. (We should all bake more bread.)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. The smell of cakes baking always reminds me of my mum, as she used to make all of the cakes we ate.
    And candy floss (cotton candy) reminds me of childhood trips to funfairs, where I was always bought some. It was the only place it was ever sold.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sadly, few people bake much these days. I can imagine the memories of your mum those smells might hold fror you.

      We always loved cotton candy but did not get it, except as you say, at fairs. The smell of funnel cakes always make me think of the scents of the fairgrounds.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful memories, brought to you by the scent of times gone by. I notice your rememberings took you down the male side of your family…. That strong bond shows . 💜


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