Creative photos and essays from the San Juan Islands




From this summer afternoon’s scene I involuntarily call up memories of smells, though I prefer to call them fragrances, for ‘smells’ sometimes carry a negative connotation while ‘fragrances’ are pleasant single or combined aromas. The logs in particular flood my senses with…uh…how in the dickens does one describe a sun baked beach log’s olfactory reality?

Sunlight does play a part, for the warmth releases atoms that tell a story. A dead bird on the beach smells. And your first description of a log wouldn’t be fragrant, unless it’s a fresh cut cedar. So the nose notices not one aroma, but a cacophony of them: the wood with no bark, the brine ‘marinating’ that brought it to the beach, the sand, the dried seaweed, the wet pebbles at the shoreline, the water itself, the grasses behind the logs, and more. The wood, sand, and saltwater, however, seem to dominate.

The true significance is their connection to human memory. That log/sand/water mix fueled by sunlit air enters my nostrils, gets transmitted to my brain, where an amazing filing system connects with past fragrances associated with memories of boyhood romps on the Oregon coast where I would, through painful practice, develop the skill of running on teetering logs, piled like pick-up sticks. This would be no timid trip, for I would dash at break-neck speeds, faster even than running on the soft beach sand. It was exhilarating because it was difficult and dangerous and doable, and I was in my element of sand and surf and sea. With so many unfortunate, unsavory memories stored aloft, this is perhaps one of my all time favorites, one that makes me smile. So at Jackson’s Beach on a summer day I am transported back to the Pacific coastline at Taft, Oregon many decades ago. Another time, but the same boy. I am a bit jealous, in my senior years, of that dashing youth!

Places AND people! A certain perfume can lift a particular woman through the fog of time. The smell of a fresh-caught trout holds a memory of fishing with my dad, or the pungent smell of polyester resin as he and I fiberglassed a boat that we were building together in the basement. Fresh split cedar shakes can conjure up the time my brother, I and his Scout troop tore off the old roof and put on fresh cedar shingles to rejuvenate the Upper Sandy River Guard Station on Mt. Hood in Oregon. For me, one aroma like cedar can pull out an entire file full of memories over a great span of time, all of them pleasant. And perhaps one pleasant memory can negate another not-so-pleasant in that ‘file’ of incidents, making the sum add up on the positive ledger! What a wonder! Even unpleasant orders can become fond memories, like cow dung on my grandparents dairy farm at Bay City, Oregon, or the smell of the salmon cannery in Astoria, Oregon, not to mention the rotten smell of a Puget Sound beach at low tide. Good memories all!

I’d wager that if I make a list of smells and aromas, just by mentioning them, you and I both would find incidents connected to those words, and our brains would recall the actual smells. Let’s try it: diesel exhaust; snow; frying bacon; wet dog; first rain on hot pavement; sharpening a pencil; fresh mowed grass; new car aroma; woodshop in grade school; fresh-baked bread. Well, that was fun! Did each of them bring up a specific memory? Sometimes the memory is vague, but the fragrance is meaningful nonetheless.

Tomorrow you and I will file away another nasal essence, not even realizing that at some future date we will fondly recall that scent as a conglomerate or solitary memory of the past.

Photo note: I have a previous post below this one where the image appears identical. They are actually two separate images, with different filters on the sky. If you noticed this, I appreciate your keen eye!

Photo location: Jackson’s Beach at the north end of Griffin Bay. Dinner island at right center, Lopez Island and Cattle Pass on the left, the Olympic mountains in the far distance.


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