Nostalgia 

Nostalgia: a wistful yearning to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a tenderness for the happiness of a former place or time.                        

Late last fall, after a dry summer in which dust devils danced and mountains shed their snow-caps too early, rain sneaked in overnight and fell unnoticed on our parched part of the west. Early the next morning, Joel and I set out to walk a mountain’s rim in the after-glow of dawn.

thin path near the lawn with purple flowers in the shade of trees on a hillside in rays of sunset

Our chosen trail abruptly left the valley floor and twined up a steep ravine pocked with boulders and damp with rain. As we climbed, stretching our legs and breathing deeply, we moved into the pungent smell of wet sage with its distinctive fragrance of warm spices cooled.

The earthy odor, a familiar presence during my formative years, surrounded me; and as I inhaled it, I was once again a young girl, standing at the edge of early morning alongside a vast, yellowing field.Hunting Silhouette

Sleepy-eyed, I watched loved ones clothed in red — father, brothers, uncles, cousins — pace in silence through rain-soaked sage, watching for the flash of pheasant. Ahead of them, Spot swept swiftly, stealthily, back and forth across the field, nose to the ground, intent.

The memory fading, I stopped on the side of the mountain, letting Joel move ahead, breathing the scented air of my past, transfused by a mental yearning, a physical ache for the place, the family, the pet, the place, and the child I lost as I aged.

Those feelings, triggered when the smell of sage transformed a mountain path into my childhood, remained with me, gradually losing their power, until I had the wisdom to secure them with these words.

Such memories, when we manage to recapture them, are to be treasured, recorded, and shared with loved ones. They add up to a life.

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51 thoughts on “Nostalgia 

  1. Love, love, love this! I agree completely- if those moments are not captured, and we do not record them, who are we when we are gone? We are a changed person, someone who lives on only in other’s memories, we become a hundred skewed perspectives of the person we truly were.

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  2. It’s amazing how a smell or a particular view will trigger such a feeling of comfort and belonging. When I first took my daughter back to my hometown, I was filled with feelings like that. You expressed this very well – this was a very good read.

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  3. That first picture with the trail reminded me of an area in the Marin headlands that I love…beautiful….I had to look up “dust devils”..you had me with that description….I’m “visually sensitive” to remembering things, but, like Laurie, SMELLS REALLY take me home…another highly enjoyable, well-written piece, Janet.

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    • Dust devils are a fairly common occurrence everywhere I’ve lived, especially when conditions are dry. They’re quite a sight, skittering across school playgrounds picking up discarded art projects and homework assignments. Smells have always triggered my memory. Thanks for your interesting, kind comment.

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  4. What a lovely walk! Sage is such a powerful memory-engager. I love it. I know if I ever again smell black sage after rain I’ll be on a hiking trail in Southern California with my first dogs.

    When I was 8, my dad and I went shopping in South Omaha for Christmas presents for my mom and brother. I bought my mom a bottle of Tabu, real perfume, not cologne. I wrapped it as pretty as I could, but the beagle we had for a short time, found the package and ran off with it, tearing the wrapping and the raw-silk around the box. When it went back under the tree, it had lost a little of it’s magnificence. I loved the smell. I don’t think she liked it much (she didn’t wear it often) or maybe it was too precious, but after she died I found it in a jewelry box, evaporated down to a gooey amber puddle. I have it put away and when I happen on it I always open it and go back to that long ago December with my dad in a department store in Nebraska.

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    • What a lovely memory and story this is, Martha. I don’t know how your mom felt about the smell of Tabu (which I remember well), but the fact she kept the perfume all those years tells me how she felt about you. I like that your dad is pivotal in the memory as well.

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      • That little bottle of Tabu — yes. It is a treasure from the happiest years of my family and a memento of the love we shared before things became sad. It’s in a little glass box of random objects that are my treasures. Maybe everyone has a box like that, things that would mean nothing to anyone else but are the sweet artifacts of happy moments to the owner. 🙂

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      • I have a small, lidded wooden box that my mother painted with poppies a-dance. It is exactly what you describe: a keeper of mementoes meaningful to me, like your bottle of Tabu, that remind me of people or places I’ve loved. I wonder how many people have similar collections of important odds and ends.

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  5. I have always been scent oriented, the smell of Ma’s ever present cigarette, leaning over me in the night to tell me to shut up-roast beef on Sundays, walking the gravel road home in summer, hot dusty blackberries and honey-suckle. We had no sage, but had the smell of the Pulp Mill, indicating change in the weather, and fresh hay. So nice to have a mountain to rest against…I hope to die with these smells my last smells, not too soon. Lovely post, thanks Janet.

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    • I’m amazed sometimes by the power of my nose. I had forgotten the smell of a summer-heated gravel road. Thanks for reminding me, Sheila. Honeysuckle and fresh hay are still part of my life, but I’ve never smelled a dusty blackberry. I’d like to. I echo your sentiment about last smells, and especially, not too soon.

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    • I think the smell of fresh rain is especially wonderful after a period of drought, but it is one of my favorite smells at any time. I’ve tried to describe the smell of the rain itself, but usually have to rely on the odor it brings out of things it touches.

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  6. And when you put them on paper, they are evidence of an existence. I love the smell of sage. I like to crush a few juniper berries and rub them on my face, hoping I don’t get pulled over and rousted for drinking gin. I spent over 30 years sucking up welding fumes and dulling my sense of smell. Nowadays I find shadows trigger my memory more than smell. I spend a lot of time watching shadows.

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    • Rob, I have such an image of you: wearing a red bandanna to attract hummingbirds with bits of juniper berry flecking your face. Sounds like a man I’m happy to call a friend. Have you always noticed shadows? I can’t say I have.

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      • My earliest memories are of the shadows through the windows of my great-grandmother’s living room. We would sit and watch “As The World Turns,” and she would make root-beer floats, which she called “brown cows.” Sometimes the shadows in the aspens take me there.

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      • I’d forgotten root-beer floats were called brown cows; my elders used that term as well. It’s actually a good descriptor. As an adult, I appreciate the shadows cast by trees, but I don’t remember noticing them as a child. I think you were lucky to know your great grandmother. I never had the privilege.

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  7. I love your tale, Janet. Here, we call our dust devils a willy-willy or whirly-whirly. In Aboriginal myths, the willy-willy represents a spirit form, and they sometimes tell their children if they are not good, a spirit will come out of the willy-willy and chase them.

    The other day, following an experience on my walk, I wondered if others had these vivid smell-based memory triggers. Now, I cannot even recall what smell evoked the memory – it wasn’t the usual wet earth or pine tree smell. Next time I will write it down.

    Thanks for sharing.

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    • I like those terms: willy-willy and whirly-whirly. They are fun to say and whirly-whirly would make sense to youngsters. But I wonder why willy-willy; do you know its origin? I also like dust devil because of its alliteration and the image it provokes in me of a devil formed of dust. If you remember the smell that prompted your smell-based memory, I’d like to know.

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  8. Memories are so powerful. (I’ve dated musicians in the past and a simple song can trigger some potent memories.) Yet, as important as it is to capture memories, I definitely know some people in my life who live for nothing but pictures and photo albums. There’s a danger in that too. I think it’s about finding a balance in life – a balance between beautiful memories, memories that can actually have negative effects (from an emotional point of view), and being an excessive selfie-taker/shutterbug who can’t remember life except through the lens of a camera.

    Capturing memories should be meaningful and personal, in my opinion.

    Oh gosh, this just turned into a blog post! Sorry, Janet! I love this post because you’ve captured a very pure, magical moment in your life and the memories associated with it. See now my mind is reeling! That’s your fault this time!!! 🙂

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    • Tamara, I love this personality-filled commen. I’m delighted you made so many connections with my post, and that it sent your mind a-reeling. Actually, our minds are in synch: I just started a post for the future on whether its better to soak up memories with our senses or through a camera; and as I develop it, I bet I’ll discover neither is ultimately superior and, as you say,”…its about finding a balance is life.”

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  9. Love this post. As Lorie noted, smells evoke memories more powerfully than any other sense.
    In the early 1990s, soon after we married, Tim was cleaning his shotgun on the back porch. I smelled the cleaning solution and immediately an image of my Uncle Norman came to mind, sitting inside his barn in his overalls and work boots. Uncle Norman died in a car crash in 1963 when I was seven years old. He was a hunter and I must have been at his farm (at least once) when he was cleaning his gun. I never would have remembered had it not been for the scent of that cleaning solution on a fall afternoon.

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  10. Yet another smell from my childhood I had forgotten: the sharp, distinctive smell that filled the room when Dad cleaned his hunting guns, a smell that triggered a frantic excitement in our dog Spot, who whimpered, barked, and danced outside on the front porch. Thanks for reminding me, Rita.

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  11. A really nice essay, Janet.
    Speaking of a different genre of memories (and changing the subject a bit), I had a discussion recently with a longtime friend of mine about the Friendly’s restaurant chain. I used to like their thick milkshake known as the Fribble, but haven’t had one in many years. My friend told me that Friendly’s still makes Fribbles, that he had one a few weeks ago, and that the Fribble originally was known as the Awful-Awful.

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  12. Janet, once again your words have touched me. Nearly thirty years ago at dusk in a small desert town, I became aware of the scent of light rain sprinkles on the sand and pebbles and the damp sage. I was instantly transported to evenings with my parents, sitting outside as the day cooled. I felt like a child, and strongly in the presence of my parents. After a few bewildered looks from others when I tried to explain the emotions I felt, I kept the memory only for myself. You captured it perfectly with: “breathing the scented air of my past, transfused by a mental yearning, a physical ache for the place, the family”.
    I love your reader’s comments and the sharing of their special moments, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mary, I like knowing we shared a moment of poignant memories triggered by rain on sage. I talked about my experience to Joel, but didn’t explain it well. I felt I did capture it in the post and was pleased when my blog friends responded so openly with similar experiences. Great to hear from you as always.

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