The Smell of Adventure

by jimowensjr

It’s an alluring scent.  Confident, but not pretentious.  Strong, but in an understated way.  With vague notes of wood and spice and musk.

Somewhere along my journey, I’ve read or heard that our sense of smell is the most powerful of the five.  I’m not sure if that’s a fact or not, but in my experience, there’s something about certain smells that rescue long-forgotten memories from the recesses of my noisy brain.

The sweet smell of freshly cut grass returns me to the summers of my thirteenth year when I pushed a lawn mower across countless yards in my neighborhood.

When I walk onto a basketball court, inhaling the cocktail crafted from the mixture of sweat, rubber, and ambition, I’m swept back to the George C. Marshall High School gymnasium where I spent so many hours with friends and teammates.

As I write these words, I can’t remember how many years it’s been since I smelled Maxwell House coffee brewing in a stove-top percolator, but the mere thought of it returns me to my grandmother’s kitchen in rural Alabama.

This morning, I got up and went through my morning rituals.  I showered.  I shaved.  I sloshed on my chosen fragrance for the day.  Bug spray.  Deep Woods Off, to be exact.  Not my traditional aftershave, I’ll admit.  But I knew that Chanel de Bleu and Aramis would only serve as an invitation for the flies and mosquitoes I would encounter in the wilderness of North Alabama today.  And since I’m not wild about the idea of contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Zika, or simply being today’s special on the bug buffet, I shrouded myself in a fog of DEET.

Normally, when I finish a day of hiking, I’ll head straight for the shower.  But not tonight.  There was something I needed to get on the page.  You see, today I set out on my journey without a destination in mind.  I just threw the backpack in the 4Runner, started the engine and pulled into the street.  As I drove, I had multiple options to head toward familiar paths. But not today.  Today, I just kept driving.

In less than two hours, I found myself staring down at the Little River Canyon Falls, near Fort Payne, Alabama.  The roar of thousands of gallons of water pouring over the rocks is magical to me.  Since we’ve had heavy rains the last few weeks, the falls were majestic.  And the forest was thick and green in the canyon.  After finishing my adventures there, I drove another thirty minutes to DeSoto Falls and found myself rewarded once more for taking this unplanned journey.  DeSoto was cauldron of white, throwing mist high into the air, blanketing me in her refreshing spray.

You might find yourself wondering what all this talk of smells and unplanned journeys and waterfalls has to do with you.  There were a few lessons in my adventure today I thought I might share.  The first is that sometimes an unplanned journey can reward you with something remarkable.  It hadn’t occurred to me how much rain we’ve had lately and what that would mean for these falls I was seeing, strangely, for the first time.  Normally, if I had planned a trip looking for waterfalls, I would have headed to Tennessee or North Carolina today—which is where I will likely be tomorrow, if the road takes me there.   The second lesson is that while Deep Woods Off was never part of my childhood forays into the woods, it will forever be the smell that reminds me to get out of my routine–to have an adventure–and sometimes just go where the road takes me—looking for waterfalls.

I suppose there’s one final lesson I should share.  I hope you’re still paying attention, because this is important.  Always, and I mean always, keep your mouth closed when you’re basting your body in bug spray. That stuff smells bad.  But it tastes even worse.