DECATUR, Ill. (DTN) -- I smelled the freshly turned soil before I heard the tractors. My golden retriever Lucy caught the whiff too. She usually begins our walks with nose to the ground, but on this late afternoon she launched herself into a full-tilt, ears-back run to a nearby farm field.
By the time I caught up, she had one paw up and was pointing to two John Deere tractors fitted with cornstalk churning field cultivators. She's never been trained to retrieve, but this dog can sure hunt mechanical beasts of the field.
The sweet, fresh-dirt smell has been traced to an organic chemical called geosmin. Microbial geneticists have even identified the common bacterium that produces the chemical that makes soil smell good. I've read desert dwelling animals are attracted to it and use the geosmin smell as a way to find water. In a natural reciprocal agreement, the bacteria that produce geosmin reportedly use animals as carriers to distribute their spores.
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On this day, nature had another message stirring on the breeze as we watched the tractors toil. Rain was in the distance.
Perfume marketers have long depended on the fact that smell can trigger strong emotion and memories. The olfactory bulb, which processes incoming smells, has direct connections to areas of the brain that stimulate such sentiments.
My sense for sentiment always seems to be in overdrive. A whiff of mown hay sends me into a summer sweat and craving an icy cola. Each harvested grain has its own distinctly yeasty scent that demands a chew test to check the moisture. Occasionally, I'll encounter just the perfect blend of oil and dust that brings back the childhood chore of painting disk blades with a blanket of thick, black gunk in an effort to tuck the tool into our dirt-floored machine shed for a rust-free winter. Even the evil, pronged weed seeds called common beggar-ticks send up a slight scent as I pluck them from Lucy's coat.
My father often says I was born nostalgic. Perhaps. These rural scents are as familiar and as necessary to me as the aroma of my morning coffee. They are my past, present and future -- a part of my culture and who I am. Bottling them is as impossible as my latest efforts to adequately photograph the fiery harvest sunsets we've had this year. All I can do is make sure to keep savoring and give thanks that I am lucky enough to have the freedom to do so.
Pamela Smith can be reached at Pamela.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @PamSmithDTN
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