The Smells of Autumn

It’s already beginning – that season of wonderful, invigorating aromas. Each day, we’re bombarded with indoor and outdoor fragrances, sights, and textures of one of the most beautiful seasons of the year.

An adventurous, energetic young couple riding bikes over woodland trails one  early morning in November is intrigued by the smell of breakfast coming from kitchens as they pass by roadside cabins – bacon sizzling somewhere in a heavy pan, waiting for eggs and maybe potato slices to be fried for a hearty autumn appetite enhanced by the chill in the air. Coffee perks away in those cabins, as well, and its smell is intoxicating to the early-morning bicyclers who are almost empty again after their light breakfast just after dawn.

It’s easy to be taken by the smell of the woods all around them, still wet from the desperately needed overnight rain. In autumn, even rain smells good. Later in the day, the woods have an especially autumnal aroma… spicy, woodsy, musky, and most enchanting. But at this time of day, early in the morning, the aroma is magnified by at least one hundred percent, and they breathe in deeply as they pedal their way toward their destination, to the place where they will tire and turn around to pedal the whole distance back.

The brisk, misty, wet-moss air they breathe as they bike along opens up nasal passages and refreshes them again and again their thoughts of fall’s magnificent beauty and the smells they encounter along the bike trail keep them going far past that destination.

They come to a bridge and stop for a while, leaning their bikes up against the railing. The stream below has its own particular smell… crisply refreshing and clean as it rushes over and around rocks and through overgrown grasses. They watch a school of minnows darting in the crystal clear water. There is no smell of fish, but a stand of tall pines near the bridge fills their senses with the aroma of an evergreen forest at its most pungent. It smells like the Christmas trees they’ll choose from soon. It’s tempting to want to rest there a bit longer.

Later, they pedal back with only the persistent fragrance of the woods until they begin to notice the smell of smoke. Around the next bend in the trail, they see a man burning leaves in the middle of his big back yard. It’s one of the unmistakable smells of autumn in the country. The sun has gone in and it’s chillier now, but the smell of burning leaves sends both of them back to a time in their own memories – images of fathers long gone, raking and clearing the area around their burning leaf piles, smoke rising high into the late afternoon air, watching cautiously until the last flames die out. Melancholy, the two say nothing; they just breathe it all in, remembering.

When they return to the starting point and load up their bikes to go home, it’s beginning to get dark. They head homeward with all the sights, sounds, and smells lingering in their senses. As they near their own hometown, they pass an Amish farm, where familiar autumn aromas hover in the air – the hay in the barn, the silage – corn put into the big silver-topped cement silo – and the smell of tobacco still drying in the tobacco shed. Autumn is a time of harvesting for these hard-working farmers who have been, for generations, well-acquainted with the seasons of sowing and reaping. One wonders if they have grown so used to all the smells of farm life in autumn that they no longer notice how different it is from the aromas of the other seasons.

Finally, the weary adventurers arrive home and enter the house that still holds the aroma of yesterday’s roast turkey dinner with the family. He goes about building a fire in the wood stove since the evening air outside is getting colder. She takes the kettle of sliced apples, orange wedges, broken cinnamon sticks, and cloves out of the refrigerator and puts it on the stove to simmer. When it’s hot, it smells like the best fall dessert baking in the oven. She turns on the coffee maker; the coffee brews and fills the house with the same enticing aroma they smelled on the bike trail in the morning. In the dining room, just for aesthetic value and a little romance, she lights an apple-cinnamon candle – her favorite fall candle. They eat leftovers from the day before, and top off their dinner with the pumpkin bread lovingly baked by their neighbor. It has its own wonderful aroma after being warmed again in the oven.

The wood fire burns until bedtime and slowly extinguishes itself, smoke rising high above the neighborhood and into the night air. The next day, the neighbor comments on the wonderful smell of last night’s wood fire, and admits she came outside just to smell it better. It’s then that one realizes how the smells of autumn are best when shared with each other, with families, and with friends.

So incredibly aromatic is the season of autumn, it becomes therapeutic.