When I stuck my nose out the back door yesterday, the air was sharp with cold. I caught a lingering drift of woodsmoke from a chimney. White snow glittered on the deck, and the dry, frigid air smelled like it had been scrubbed clean, like every particle of moisture and pollen and dust had frozen and fallen right out of it. The temperature was 5℉ (-15℃).
Today, I slid the back door open, poked my head out, and sniffed again. The air is a warmer cold than yesterday (31℉ / -0.5℃), and carries more humidity. I smell no earth in it, unlike earlier in the month when I’d smell leaf litter or wet soil. I can’t really smell anything, honestly. It only smells like air; I feel its temperature and moisture more than I smell any scent. According to the weather forecast, rain is coming.
One of my intentions for 2022 is to connect: to connect with people, with nature, with the divine if I’m lucky. I recently read Wintering by Katherine May, and was struck by a very simple habit she’s developed: before she sits down to meditate each day, she opens the back door to sniff the air:
In the last few weeks, the mornings have smelled fresh and crisp, as if the encroaching cold is making everything clean.Katherine May, Wintering
For years, I’ve been in the habit of checking the weather app on my phone every morning. I look at it to see what the day will bring, and within minutes I’ve often forgotten what it said. If the sun is up, I can look out the window to get part of the picture of what’s going on, but there’s a barrier between me and the outside world when I look through glass.
Smelling the air is immersive. It’s makes real what I read in the weather app, and it’s a fuller experience than what I can observe through a window. Going out into the air, even if it’s just my head that pokes out, helps me pay attention to the bigger world. It’s a small and simple thing I can do each day to connect with nature, with my own senses, and sometimes with the divine.
2 thoughts on “Sniff the air”
I’ve been wanting to read the Wintering! Just discovered Katherine May! Sniffing the air sounds lovely!
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I love the smell of woodsmoke from a chimney, especially Piñon. It burns hot and smells great too. It is so cold and wet in Aachen in the winter that it frequently stinks of standing water, which I don’t enjoy. When it gets colder, it tends to dry up, which means that snow is quite uncommon. Today was cold and dry. I took a nice long walk with my wife while the sun was shining, and although I wasn’t paying too much attention to the air, I don’t think it had a strong scent. We walked past fields where there are usually cows and chickens, but I didn’t see any today, nor notice their smell. Usually I enjoy the smell. I like knowing where my eggs come from.
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