Clean Air

I grew up in the countryside. Where the smell of rain was the only perfume anyone wore. Where the smell of wood burning meant a hot breakfast or an evening sitting in huge arm chairs soaking in the flames on a freezing cold night. On those nights, just before bed, we’d stand in front of the fire until our pyjamas scorched and smoked before running out of the room into the frozen hallway of our house and down to our bedroom, diving under the five kilo of blankets to curl up against cold sheets, hold very still and let the pyjamas warm the bed. We knew then that a single movement in a cold bed meant sheets of ice burning into the comfort of that burrow. Sometimes my brother and I would even sleep together to get warm, but the one who was on foreign soil would eventually have to exit and brave the ice in their own, now marble slab cold, bed..

I love clean air because of the electric ions… no not really. I learnt to say that in Yoga. Really I love clean air because I love clean air. I love to smell things and taste things that nature put there for us. Like ocean salt spray and green fresh mowed grass. I even like the objectional smells that come from clean air, like yak dung in the mountains of Nepal, or the rancid exhaust of a bus burning some black goo into the atmosphere in India. The luxury of clean air is the ability to experience life at its simplest.

Offices smell. Offices do not have clean air. Offices have air-conditioned air. Air that’s been stripped, fertilised, deodorised and dispensed in temperature controlled levels to provide working bodies with just enough oxygen to think and produce. Sometimes in those offices I smell cleaning products that actually smell like urine. I wonder who chose those flavours? I don’t feel safe in offices. I can’t smell. I’d prefer to stand in the rain than to be in an office all day.

Aeroplanes smell. But up in business class, the smell is usually good, better. Especially when it’s meal time and those kitchens start firing up their microwaved meals. On one flight the chef actually cooked me a steak, really cooked it. And then coffee. I love the smell of coffee on a plane. I masks the aircon smell of flying. Down in ecconomy it’s a little different. Down here in “cattle class” farts escape the seats meant to catch them. Toilets waft odours out into the isles. People eat all manner of self created goo and on one flight a lady did her finger nails with that horrific smell that comes with acetone. In cattle class, I don’t need sound blocking earphones. I need a nose phone. A mask that separates me from the toxin of bad breath, farts and noxious food. Now that’s an invention for IOT.

In the Himalayas, up at Namche Bazaar the air is pure but there’s always some smell. The smell of rain, of a drain, a cooking fire, a funeral pyre, a monastery burning juniper or just the himalayan rhododendron forest, that can blow your mind wide open for days. Of course, there’s yak poo and human poo and pee and some others. There’s wood fired kitchens although they’re running out of wood and so this smoke now happens more where there’s no other option. There’s trekkers smells, the worst of which are the individuals who still wear those navy blue trekking shirts that stay dry even in sweat. Eeeek those are rank after ten minutes.

I love the smell of dog fur, rain, wind and life. Sometimes I forget to say thank you for this gift of smelling. The fact that I can detect bad meat or a meal not cooked with love or milk that’s off. Sure, I don’t need this sense as much as I used to when I was living in the bush, sure, it’s a bit of a luxury to complain about flights and offices and nail polish. But the sensitivity of this ability to smell goes way past odour. Can you smell trouble before it happens? I can. I think we all can. Can you follow the scent of a lie? I can. Actually I think we all can. As we use the power of smell less and less for survival and necessity, maybe the gift is that the sense evolves into something equallly life protecting, life saving but more relevant. Can you smell the end of this article coming? I can.

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