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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!

But for the time, let’s forget about the neural network and concentrate on this smell-memory link as a trigger for an Old Older experience.

Without going all Proustian on you, I might suggest that taste is good, too; but apparently smell is better.

Think bigger than the fairgrounds. Think all of Sonoma County. Think Old and Older.

There are plenty of those nose teasers that would, should they waft past us, bring vivid remembrance of things past.

(Understand that when we’re talking “nose” here, it’s not the sniffy Wine Country term for how wine smells when swirled in a glass. We’re talking pungent. We are talking unmistakable.)

Intoxicating odors with geographic specificity, like the tight little Dry Creek Valley in September, with the grape gondolas hauling fruit to the crushers in all directions.

Or the eucalyptus on Lakeville Highway. Or a deep breath of salt air, Pacific-style.

Does that make you think of cutting classes on a fine spring afternoon?

Watch the committee hearing

A bill that would streamline environmental review for housing in Santa Rosa got mixed reviews at its first committee hearing Wednesday. To watch the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality hearing, click here.

Can you smell a campfire — or a hot dog being roasted to a crunch over an open flame — without a childhood memory of that week at camp?

I think you get my drift.

Then there are the smells that some of us who are what the French call “d’un certain age” wouldn’t mind getting a whiff of just once more for old times’ sake. (Warning: Don’t look up that French phrase. You’ll find it means “elderly,” which is way too weary a word.)

Those odors are the Olds and Olders. Some of them aren’t so pleasant — right up there with this week’s manure spreading — but they do indeed trigger memories of the way things used to be.

If you aren’t just passing through, you will remember the smell of sulfur from a prune dryer; Molino Corners or downtown Graton in apple-picking season; the funky wet feathers smell as you drive through Fulton on River Road, trying not to look at the doomed chickens hanging from the conveyor belts; the nose-wrinkling scent of the tallow factory on the road from Sonoma to Petaluma; the county dump, before it became corporate.

Did you ever walk past the fish-processing plant on Sebastopol Road, or sniff the tannery on Second Street? Been here long enough to remember the Happy Hops essence emanating from Grace Brothers brewery?

The worst smells may bring good memories. Cigarette smoke, for example, reminds me of my father, who always had a pack of “Luckies” in his shirt pocket. Not a bad memory, in spite of what we now know.

One of the scientific studies I read talked about perfume; about how you might remember a person from the scent they choose.

It is a romantic truth and one that some very fancy sales pitches are based upon. But it isn’t all romance.

I think if I had just one whiff from the perfume counters at Rosenberg’s and The White House mixed with those from every one of the several drug stores along Fourth Street, I would think immediately of a short, square woman named Pepper, who patrolled the downtown helping herself to liberal applications of all of the above.

What do you remember? Did you go to a country school? Does the smell of oiled wood floors mingled with chalk dust bring a vision of the dark blue dress your teacher wore fall, winter and spring? Or the poems she wrote on the blackboard to be memorized (“Behind him lay the grey Azores, behind the Gates of Hercules…” and we sailed on.)? Or the books on the library table that took you to far-away places?

Can you still smell the 19-cent hamburgers at Eat’n Run? Or the medley aroma of french fries, cherry Cokes and idling engines at Gordon’s Drive-In after a high school football game?

We all can make our own lists. Mine would have redwoods, foggy mornings in Bodega Bay and a photography darkroom. Yours would be very different. As different as our lives.

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