Photo: Jez Timms

14 Smells That Remind You to Breathe

1. Lightning. When the thunder begins to rattle your soul, throw open your windows. Count the seconds until lightning flickers or forks or explodes. As the wind whips around you, watch for the one bolt that illuminates the darkness and shatters molecules. Breathe in the burst of ozone.

2. Petrichor. Hurry to your doorway when summer clouds finally darken and grow heavy. Watch the first raindrops streak past you to splatter on the parched soil. Tilt your face to the sky. Wait for the rocks to release the sweet, earthy smell of dust after the rain. Let the promise of new growth fill your lungs.

3 – 10. Pleasant plants. Anticipate the rush of pine when long needles break beneath your boots. Search the wind for traces of honeysuckle, lavender, and magnolia lifted from their flowers. Wait for the spray of citrus when bright lemons drop from their branches. Pluck basil, rosemary, and mint leaves. Let their scents linger on your fingertips.

11. An unpleasant plant. When your eyes water and your throat constricts against the rotten meat stench in the air, search for a carrion flower. Watch the unsuspecting flies and beetles walk across its petals and into its depths for the promised meal. Watch them leave, hungry and ready to be fooled again. Breathe through your mouth. This smell isn’t meant for you.

12. A decaying stump. Peer inside the stump abandoned in the forest, harboring a community of insects, microbes, and mushrooms flourishing in the decay. You need only bump the ecosystem to release the damp wood and umami scent that makes your fingers itch for your garden trowel. Let life and death mingle in your nose until you can’t separate their smells.

13. Oceans. Stand on sand so damp it compacts under your feet. Let the wind bring you salt, traces of fish near and far, earthy seaweed bobbing on the waves, and some other scent you can’t quite place but that brings you comfort. Bury your toes and consider all the beings under the surface whose byproducts blend in the air dancing about your face. Commit these smells to memory, to bring out the next time you feel you contribute nothing to this world.

14. Crested auklets. Venture to Alaska’s archipelago, where the chilly waters crash into rocky cliffs. Hear the crested auklets squawk from the crevices they’ve made into homes. Watch one ruffle its feathers, and enjoy the tangerine-like perfume it emits from between its shoulder blades. When you inhale this sea breeze, know that you are not alone in this place.

Megan Hippler is an environmental and humanities writer in Queensland, Australia. Her work appears in
Seamwork and the anthology Re/Coded.

Enjoy the Enumeration column? Check out more.


Subscribe to Orion Ad

Megan Hippler is a writer from West Virginia who currently lives in Australia. Her work has appeared in Seamwork magazine, Beyond Your Blog, Re/Coded, and Modern Loss. When she’s not reading about the latest environmental breakthroughs, she’s likely exploring the Australian wilderness with her partner and their rambunctious dog.