Friday, July 23, 2004

Nosing Around

I know I've written before about the amazing memory/emotion triggers in the human olfactory lobes, but I've become overwhelmed by them once again, and therefore must reiterate.

Since I've "grown up" and left home, I've become acutely aware of what surroundings, sounds, sights, savors and of course, smells, provide an overwhelming, unexpected comfort.  A few weeks ago, when I started this post, I experienced this comfort from the oddest place, the pet store.  Now, I suppose a lot of people may find pet stores comforting, what with the happy puppies wagging their tails and the little kittens who long to curl up in your lap or wrap themselves around your shoulders.  For me, however, it was the mere smell of the pet store-- an odd smell I've always equated with bird seed, although I don't like birds-- the sight of chew toys and squeaky rubber balls, the sound of bubbling fish tanks off to the side.  All of these things reminded me of home, of security and of times of joy and love.

See, my dad bred, raised and trains dogs-- still does.  Actually, he should have a litter of pups any day now.  Even though the pet store I ventured into a few weeks ago is some large commercial place, it reminded me of the small store we'd go to on the north side of town to pick up large bags of special dog food and rawhides and anything else.  I'd wander around that store while my dad took care of business and that smell of bird seed I guess just infiltrated my nostrils and clung to my mental sensors like barbecue to your ribs or peanut butter to the roof of your mouth. 

I bring this up again today because I've found another trigger, another haven in the storm: the library.  I've never sat down and thought about how much time I've spent in libraries until a couple of days ago.  I mean, sure, I spent most of my junior high after-school afternoons in the library, but that was because they wouldn't let transfer students ride the bus anymore, even though it stopped at my street anyway (the border went right down the middle of my street and I lived on the "wrong" side and therefore had to transfer to go to my school).  So, when I didn't have an after-school activity or friend's house to go to, I would simply walk to the library and wait there for my mom to get off work; two hours later.  Needless to say, I rarely had a hard time getting my homework done in those days.  On Fridays the library closed at 5pm, so I had to wait in the lobby or outside until my mom could get there thirty minutes later.  (Think winters in Wisconsin---brrrrrr--froze my little tukas off)  yay for after-school activities. 

But the library thing goes back further than that.  In my day care, we would have "library day" each week when we would walk down to the downtown library and get to check out a book.  We would always have a waiting list to check out "The Dark Crystal."  The library was beautiful-- divided downstairs with a balcony second floor so you could look down onto the first.  Thinking about it, I get the feeling Belle might have had when the Beast gave her his library.  I don't think I've been there since high school.

In college I would bury myself in the "cages" as they were called-- the little desks lining the stacks of the Memorial Library in I needed to get some serious reading, outlining or other homework not requiring a computer done.  Most times I'd bring my headsets and just lose myself to the world around me.  Sometimes I'd sit in the almost-silence of rustling pages, scribbling pens and the harried breathing of my fellow crammers.  Between classes, I would sink into a large leather chair in the Art Library-- sometimes to study, sometimes to simply fall asleep until the bells rang once again. 

Even now, when I want to run away I find myself heading to a library.  Oft times I pretend to look something up under academic guise.  Usually, I just want to be in the near-quiet of the anthology-padded walls with the smell of old bindings wafting through the air and the sporadic sounds of catalogue viewership as another traveler finds rest in the form of this tranquil haven.