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LeBaron: Smells bring back memories of Sonoma County

  • Manuel Chavez with Golas Landscaping works to complete their display for the 1960s 'Flower Power' theme in the Hall of Flowers at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)

So the farmers are spreading manure again, huh? What else is new?

We hope they never stop, because if they do it will mean that no one cares if the good stuff is returned to the soil and the pastures grow healthy feed for prize livestock. That would be a sad day for this place and those of us who love living in a “cow county.”

We may forget from year to year that this is the season for that smell. It always comes around county fair time. In fact, some folks mistakenly blame it on the barns at the fairgrounds.

It may make you curl your nose, but I will guarantee that if you were to sniff the same odor in Wisconsin or Kansas, you’d remember Sonoma County. Because the nose knows.

Our traditional late-summer smell offers us an opportunity to muse on the phenomenon that is the link between smell and memory.

The sense of smell, experts suggest, is a more potent memory trigger than any of the other four senses (taste, sight, hearing, touch). Scientists can explain it all, about the olfactory bulb and the limbic system and the waves occasioned by scent that some have called the “emotional brain.”

Let’s take the fair for example. It occurred to me, when I had walked a few yards past the Brookwood Gate and inhaled the deep-fried air from the gamut of once-a-year culinary adventures, that if I had been dumped, blindfolded from a passing car, I would know immediately where I had landed.

The county fair, which apparently still lingers in my olfactory system, seems like a good starting point for an exploration of smell as a nostalgia trigger. Another way to play Old Older, you say? And you’re right.

There is such a wide range of odors to choose from at the fair. If you were dumped blind in the barns, you could probably tell which one: cow, sheep or swine. Or you might get a big breath of the flower show where the Flower Power hippie theme was so successful I could have sworn I got a whiff of pot and/or patchouli oil. But it was probably just a recollection, triggered by the sight of all those painted VW bug bodies and the tie-dye color scheme.

Talk about a memory trigger!


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