The Scent of Nostalgia

I have a love/hate affair with the desert. I’ve lived all my life in Arizona and, after my first trip to forested mountains at age nine, declared that I’d be moving to the Rocky Mountains as soon as I turn eighteen. That deadline has long since passed, and I’m still surrounded by a spectrum of dull browns.

I long for a quiet cabin in the woods and foggy grey mornings. Yet here I am, still in the land of dirt. But I’d be remiss to say I don’t love it too. I do. I love the mild winters, and I appreciate the scorching heat. In late summer, I love the change of landscape as monsoon storms roll in and set the sky aglow.

My baby sister was the first, and thus far only, family member to break the desert’s spell. While she loves the Midwest and her new life, I noticed a recurring theme on her Christmas list this year: creosote. Aromatic bundles, candles, and balms made from the ancient desert shrub that smells like rain. The refreshing and homely blend of pine, citrus, and rosemary. A scent that, were I to leave, I would probably miss too.

I’ve wondered over the years why this plant is so precious to us desert dwellers. Why do we cherish it so? But, the reason is simple: memory and nostalgia. It reminds us of the fleeting piece of time we get in the summer when the desert treats us to its most dramatic show of power and strength. It’s a vivid reminder that you’re just an occupant on this spinning rock at the whim of something much larger. The power of nature has a way of putting things into perspective.

But on a smaller, less existential scale it reminds me of stepping outside on a balmy summer evening and catching that scent in the air. If you’ve experienced it you know it. Creosote is a scent that sears itself in memory with the anticipation of electrified skies, churning winds, and a violent dump of rain.

8 thoughts on “The Scent of Nostalgia

  1. When my daughter and I first moved to Tucson, it had just finished raining when we stepped out of the airport and into the last of the monsoon season. We were Northerners, unused to the fecund smalls of the desert after the rain. It smelled like manure and we looked at each other, wondering if we had just made THE biggest mistake of our lives. Surprisingly, we grew to accept the smell, and even grow to love it.

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    1. Oh, that is too funny, Tamara!! It really is a bizarre aroma and I can only imagine the shock if that’s the first thing that hits you when you step out the airport. I’m pleased to hear it’s grown on you.

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      1. We were worried it wouldn’t and that we’d be stuck in a smelly city. At first, we couldn’t understand how people were deeply inhaling and having ecstatic expressions on their faces. Seemed kike a scam in the beginning!

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  2. Lovely post, and I’m sure I’ve smelled creosote, but I can’t remember exactly. Makes me want to experience it (but not the smell Tamara described). 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine it’s vaguely unpleasant to someone who’s not used to the smell 😆 but it’s like Pavlov’s aroma as a local… if you smell creosote, it means the flora and fauna have had a nice drink and there is an indescribable comfort in that.

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