Saturday, July 21, 2007

Why Can I Smell When It's Going To Snow?

This is my second answer to the weird questions I asked about a week ago. I allow myself just 15 minutes to respond and whatever I write during this time I post here (sometimes with the minimum amount of editing).

Like many things cold, the air that anticipates snow is sluggish and has no energy. It drifts slowly up the nostrils taking its time and because of this it is, for a short while, a strain to breathe. Some people mistake this for excitement but they are wrong. Snow is no more exciting than a gale-force wind but is much more exciting than rain. Rain is the dullest weather except when part of a storm.

So the first smell of snow is drawn into the nostrils with a gasp. There it is picked out rather like a fly on fly paper in a grocer's shop and, once trapped, is quickly drawn onto the fancy-shaped nerve-ending that only twangs when complete. The snow-smell is one shape and the nerve-ending is the opposite so together they form a whole that convulses with shock.

This shock travels. It actually takes no time at all. Pretty soon the whole nerve is shaking and convulsing and jigging around until it reaches the olfactory bulb (which a primitive organ most creatures have). Now the olfactory bulb is a strange little thing. It is joined to the bottom of the temporal lobe close to our store of memories of sights and faces. So memories cause us to sniff the air and smells cause us to remember.

And so the cold air that comes before snow can remind us of sledging down a hill with four friends when we were undergraduates and twenty, or that time we stepped onto a frozen lake and heard the ice crack beneath our feet, or that time we first helped our children build snow men and showed them how well a piece of coal does for a nose.

Which brings me back to the smell of snow which some people might think is no smell at all. But they are wrong. As I've shown.


Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Love the journey you've taken me on the back of a smell, through the brain and back again. I watched Michel Gondry's 'Science of Sleep' last night and part in that charming movie (I think I now have a new fav. movie) had the main character describing the brain, and here I quote - 'which is located right behind the nose." Loving these answers and questions of yours.

Sun Jul 22, 02:26:00 am  

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