October 21, 2018

"Many people report a particular scent appearing around this time of year; some describe it as melancholy, while others associate it with more pleasant harvest-type smells."

"The scent of autumn can be as much an emotional shift as it is a herald of the waning daylight.... But where does this smell come from?... When the leaves fall, they die. As they take their last breath, they “exhale” all sorts of gases through tiny holes known as stomata. Among these compounds released are terpene and isoprenoids, common ingredients in the oils that coat plants. Terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning their main ingredients are hydrogen and carbon. Pinene, a species of terpene, smells like — you guessed it — pine. It’s a main ingredient to the saplike resin that repairs the bark of conifers and pine trees. Occasionally, these gas molecules excreted by plants — known as volatile organic compounds — interact with variants of nitrous oxide. This can lead to ozone production, which can smell a bit like chlorine or the exhaust of a dryer vent. In addition to the release of gases contained within dying vegetation, two other effects contribute to the emotion-evoking scent that accompanies a northwest autumn breeze: decomposing plant matter, and pollutants trapped at the ground levels during the fall months. The soil in most parts of the world is rich in Geotrichum candidum, a fungus that causes rotting and decomposition of fruits and vegetables and dense plant matter. In fact, Geotrichum candidum has been sampled on all seven continents. This is just one of many species that erodes away as deceased organisms, the chemical reactions of which contribute to the smell of 'fall.'"

From "The scent of a season: Explaining the aromas of fall" (WaPo).

With my greatly diminished sense of smell, I wonder what emotions I miss. Melancholy? There's a deep dimension to autumn, and I have forgotten it.

83 comments:

Oso Negro said...

I miss the sound of my grandmother's rake scraping on the sidewalk and the smell of the burning leaves in the gutter in front of her house in St.Louis. THAT was autumn.

bagoh20 said...

As we approach early November I mostly smell desperation.

Rob said...

It's the smell of decomposition and putrefaction. Better for the elderly not to be able to smell it, since we may be a source.

Joshua Barker said...

Don't forget the smell of Autumn bonfires...

EDH said...

Isn't this what Reagan meant by trees cause pollution?

“Killer” Trees? Not Exactly

tcrosse said...

There's the smell of monks who live on lentil purée.

Original Mike said...

”With my greatly diminished sense of smell, I wonder what emotions I miss. Melancholy? There's a deep dimension to autumn, and I have forgotten it.”

Not melancholy, but something related. Wistful? In any case, it’s a powerful feeling. There is something emotional about fall above all other seasons for me and aroma is certainly part of it.

Original Mike said...

We’re thinking of buying a northern Wisconsin lake house, and it occurs to me one positive thing about it would be an extended fall. First up here, then down in Madison.

Mr Wibble said...

I love the sights and sounds and smells of Autumn.

The harvesting of the pumpkin spice fields...
Ranchers driving herds of Uggs through town...
The ritual immolation of the Basic Wicker Bitch...

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

here's some autumnal melancholy

FOREVER AUTUMN, J.Hayward

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds will be much colder
Now you're not here

I watch the birds fly south across the Autumn sky
And one by one they disappear==
I wish that I was flying with them
Now you're not here

Like the sun through the trees you came to love me
Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

Through Autumn's golden gown we used to kick our way
You always loved this time of year
Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now
Cause you're not here

Like the sun through the trees you came to love me
Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
As if to hide a lonely tear
My life will be forever Autumn
Cause you're not here

MadisonMan said...

What's the smell of DarkMonth?

Original Mike said...

”What's the smell of DarkMonth?”

DarkMonth smells like pine and evergreens. The stars shine like crystals in the sky, but are too far away to smell.

Unknown said...

That smell doesn't offend or upset everyone. It's Decorative Gourd Season!

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/its-decorative-gourd-season-motherfuckers

-sw

jaydub said...

The smell is unicorn flatulence which is common in late October and early November of even numbered years when the Democrats and Socialists start to develop the payment schemes for the free stuff they promise. It's particularly strong this year.

Sebastian said...

"With my greatly diminished sense of smell, I wonder what emotions I miss."

OK, so you know you have a "greatly diminished" sense of smell, and you are self-aware enough to wonder what emotions you might miss as a result. Now generalize: exactly how does your personal Sitz im Leben distort your emotions, perceptions, and ideas? Which of your ideas or reported perceptions are mere rationalizations of the distortion? (No snark -- a personal question meant impersonally.)

Of course we all have, if not diminished, at least grossly disproportionate senses of x, which causes few of us to wonder what emotions/thoughts/understandings we might miss as a result. People blithely proceed half-blind, half-deaf, half-smell-deprived, and think they perceive the world correctly. Similarly, people blithely proceed on half-assed assumptions about women, about climate, about government, without a care in the world for the knowledge they might miss. Dunning-Kruger is self-protective overcompensation. With their greatly diminished sense of humility about what they don't know, might smart intellectuals be less likely to wonder what they miss?

Anyway, what is remarkable is that we cut each other so much slack about stuff we miss, and that we have managed to construct a system that works pretty well considering that most of us miss quite a bit most of the time.

bagoh20 said...

"Autumn"

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIHeLafUPas

JML said...

Original Mike Re: Wistful. I agree.

bagoh20 said...

Out here in Vegas, we had a torrential thunderstorm in the predawn morning. Lots of lightning, thunder, and an incredible amount of rain for just about 15 minutes. Now, this morning it's beautiful with clean air, in the low 70's, that smell everywhere, and the sun back out to put things straight. I'm going out in the desert and shoot stuff.




James K said...

In the good old days it was the smell of burning piles of raked-up leaves.

Phidippus said...

Certainly the sweet humus smell of the leaves is part of the season's charm. Even with an attenuated sense of smell (mine is none too great, likely due to certain ill-considered chemical experiments in my distant youth), the sound of newly fallen leaves crunching and rustling around your feet as you walk in the woods is available to you, and always the light. Autumn light, low in the sky even at midday, lighting up the leaves that haven't fallen yet, golden, redolent.

gspencer said...

Nat King Cole's rendition of Autumn Leaves will leave anyone melancholy,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL0sHGqBllI

MayBee said...

Melancholy is the worst, most worthless emotion. Don't have it.

Fernandistein said...

Terpene Tanks

Inga...Allie Oop said...

Autumn smells like a pumpkin spice latte to me, makes me feel warm and cozy. Another autumn smell, freshly pressed apple cider.

roesch/voltaire said...

This morning the sun light was quite and the frost on the green grass sparkled the air with pine.

surfed said...

Simon and Garfunkel
"Leaves That are Green Turn to Brown"

https://youtu.be/y1Bl4BnU_NI

hstad said...

I'm trying to understand people from Wisconsin. You miss "Melancholy" really? I don't miss being sad or depressed, there's something in the water up in Wisconsin or a few loose screws from these bloggers.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

There is a smell in that air that says Autumn is coming. I can't define what it is. The air just smells and even feels different. The sounds of the birds and wind also announce that a change is coming.

Autumn and Spring are my two most favorite times of the year because they signal that change. There is an energy in those changes that is somehow different and more significant that Winter or Summer.

Spring is the rebirth of the world, of nature, with the emergence from winter. New leaves. Buds on the fruit trees. Singing birds joyfully welcoming the ever earlier sunrises. Longer, warmer and softer afternoons.

Autumn is the harbinger of winter and the end of summer. The beautiful death of the leaves in all their glorious colors. The birds, squirrels, raccoons, deer all preparing for the winter. Storing food. Stealing apples. Finding nesting spots and shelters for the coming cold. As we enjoy the ever warming spring afternoons and days, in Autumn we enjoy the crisp cold mornings and the lingering warmth of the summer's sun which is gradually fading with the earlier sunsets.

Each Autumn and each Spring, I am reminded of the eons of Autumns and Springs in the past that have faithfully appeared and disappeared. The cycle is repeated over and over....Amen.

rhhardin said...

It used to be burning leaves. Now it's grain elevators.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann Althouse said...

"I wonder what emotions I miss. Melancholy?"

We live in different worlds, my friend....

rcocean said...

I always love the October -early November- sharpness in the Morning air. Its invigorating without being too cold.

RichardJohnson said...

bagoh20, thank you very much for linking to the Edgar Winter Group song of Autumn. Good lyrics, good video. I had forgotten that song.


I associate two smells with autumn. First, when the fallen leaves are still dry and there is a certain amount of leaf dust in the air- at least when you rake. Second, when the fallen leaves have been rained on for a couple of weeks, there is a certain musty aroma.

Nonetheless, I associate more distinctive smells with other seasons. For example, there is the smell of skunk cabbage in early spring. Very distinctive.

With winter, I associate the humidity of the air right before a snowfall, when the temperature is in the mid 20s, the sky is grey, and humidity is approaching 100%. While that doesn't have much of a distinctive odor, the feel of cold very humid air hitting nasal passages has a distinctive feel to it.

November has its beauty.
Robert Frost My November Guest

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walked the sodden pasture lane.


Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.


The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.


Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

iowan2 said...

It's not really a smell, although it is sensed deep in the back of the mouth. Not a smell like leaves burning, are the grain dryer running
But a taste. Of harvested corn, it tastes different than harvested soybeans, and cut hay in October is different than hay cut in June, Corn silage is a smell, but its in August and September.
Earthy and organic. But definitely fall harvest. It moves those that were raised on the land, carry the rest of our lives.

Original Mike said...

Blogger hstad said...”I'm trying to understand people from Wisconsin. You miss "Melancholy" really? I don't miss being sad or depressed, there's something in the water up in Wisconsin or a few loose screws from these bloggers.”

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be reminded, every year, that you’re going the way of the leaves.

whitney said...

The smell of things burning always smells like fall to me. I don't know what's burning exactly but it smells fantastic

tcrosse said...

Is it still permissible to speak of Indian Summer?

Ann Althouse said...

"OK, so you know you have a "greatly diminished" sense of smell, and you are self-aware enough to wonder what emotions you might miss as a result. Now generalize: exactly how does your personal Sitz im Leben distort your emotions, perceptions, and ideas? Which of your ideas or reported perceptions are mere rationalizations of the distortion?"

The most obvious guess is that I am very slow to feel disgust. It's a strength. I can stay with something that would repel others and see some things that those who turn away will not see. Also, I have less to gain by going toward things that have a positive pull for other people. There's some apathy and aloofness involved. Detachment. I'm interested in ideas without much connection to using them to get anywhere.

Ann Althouse said...

Blogger hstad said...”I'm trying to understand people from Wisconsin. You miss "Melancholy" really? I don't miss being sad or depressed, there's something in the water up in Wisconsin or a few loose screws from these bloggers.”

You're putting a heavier meaning on "miss" than I intended. For example, I could say I missed the Wisconsin gubernatorial debate without meaning that I felt at all sad about it!

And when I added "Melancholy?" what I meant was a combination of: 1. I might be better off without some of the things I don't have, and 2. There may be subtle benefits to some things that are normally thought of as negative.

By the way, I'm not from Wisconsin. I'm from Delaware.

rcocean said...

"Is it still permissible to speak of Indian Summer?"

Its called Hindu Summer, now.

rcocean said...

"I don't miss being sad or depressed, there's something in the water up in Wisconsin or a few loose screws from these bloggers.”

Actually, due to its German heritage Wisconsin is incredibly even-keeled. Look at indicators of drug use, mental illness, crime and all around weirdness.

If you picked a state that would have a nervous breakdown, Florida/California would be at the top, Winsc. at the bottom.

rcocean said...

Delaware - the most obscure state in the Union.

Most people don't know it exists. What is it known for? Nothing. What distinguishes it from NJ? Unknown.

Evidently, Joe Biden is its greatest citizen. Really.

Inga...Allie Oop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Inga...Allie Oop said...

“Actually, due to its German heritage Wisconsin is incredibly even-keeled.”

That’s right, that’s me to a tee!

Hahahaha, I’m sure you all agree.

JML said...

There must not be many Germans in Madison.

Ann Althouse said...

"Actually, due to its German heritage Wisconsin is incredibly even-keeled. Look at indicators of drug use, mental illness, crime and all around weirdness."

For some reason that made me think of one of my favorite movies about Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Death Trip."

Ann Althouse said...

"Delaware - the most obscure state in the Union. Most people don't know it exists. What is it known for? Nothing. What distinguishes it from NJ? Unknown. Evidently, Joe Biden is its greatest citizen. Really."

1. Joe Biden is from Pennsylvania.

2. I've lived in northern NJ (Wayne) and southern NJ (near Camden), and those 2 areas are completely different from each other, so when you say NJ, I don't know what you mean. As for Delaware seeming like New Jersey, all I'll say is that I learned a long time ago that, for some people, it's where the South begins.

Ann Althouse said...

From Wikipedia: "Since its founding, Wisconsin has been ethnically heterogeneous. Following the period of French fur traders, the next wave of settlers were miners, many of whom were Cornish, who settled the southwestern area of the state. The next wave was dominated by "Yankees", migrants of English descent from New England and upstate New York; in the early years of statehood, they dominated the state's heavy industry, finance, politics and education. Between 1850 and 1900, large numbers of European immigrants followed them, including Germans, Scandinavians (the largest group being Norwegian), and smaller groups of Belgians, Dutch, Swiss, Finns, Irish, Poles, Italians, Luxembourgers, and others. In the 20th century, large numbers of Mexicans and African Americans came, settling mainly in Milwaukee; and after the end of the Vietnam War came an influx of Hmongs."

Inga...Allie Oop said...

I remember Milwaukee to be a majority German City, followed by Irish and Italian. Kids in the old neighborhood had parents and grandparents who had some accent or another, besides the Milwaukee accent with its unique words, heard no where else that I know of.

Inga...Allie Oop said...

Oh and the Poles, they lived on the South Side. Germans, Italians and Irish lived north and east.

Guildofcannonballs said...

I have more respect for the beer dumb than I do for the whiskey wise.

Many things I can/could (and also lastly will) blame on Deadwood the HBO thing (cut short).

rcocean said...

For some reason that made me think of one of my favorite movies about Wisconsin, "Wisconsin Death Trip."

And that makes me think of Hamlin Garland, Sherwood Anderson and Edgar lee Masters. Y'know:

"Hey, you think we Midwesterner's are all Elm Trees and Sunday dinners, but look we're just as crazy/weird as NYC! Look at the suffering! Look at the Weirdness! Pay Attention to Us"

Guildofcannonballs said...

Laslo's next is going to be "Dingus Deadwood" or bust.

Alone, no support and active ostracism, I just gave you all unrepayable wisdom.

I charge no interest.

rcocean said...

BTW, I think the Republicans should strike a deal:

PR a state in exchange for:

RI merging with Massachusetts,
Delaware merging with NJ, and
Texas becoming 2 states.

Guildofcannonballs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tcrosse said...

Oh and the Poles, they lived on the South Side. Germans, Italians and Irish lived north and east.

No shortage of Jews on the North Side. My Mom's Washington High yearbook from 1932 had about 10 pages of Cohens.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

Inga wrote:

That’s right, that’s me to a tee!

Hahahaha, I’m sure you all agree.

10/21/18, 2:11 PM

You neglected to add the second sentence "Look at indicators of drug use, mental illness, crime and all around weirdness."

Mental illness and all around weirdness - that's right, it's Inga to a tee.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

I took a long walk through Estabrook Park today. I like the autumn smell and the changing colors. But I do dread winters here.

Inga...Allie Oop said...

South siders were the weird ones.🤤

Josephbleau said...

"I remember a Spring, such a sweet tender thing.
And loves summer college, where the green leaves of knowledge
Were waiting to fall with the Fall.
And September wine, numbs the passage of time..."

Inga...Allie Oop said...

“No shortage of Jews on the North Side. My Mom's Washington High yearbook from 1932 had about 10 pages of Cohens.”

That’s true! My neighborhood on the northwest side of Milwaukee also had quite a large Jewish community. I used to babysit for the owner of Goldman’s kids, back in the late 60’s

Rob McLean said...

"I am very slow to feel disgust."

That should serve you well as a Democrat.

Francisco D said...

I love the smell of socialist desperation in the morning.

It smells like ...

... victory!


Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

"Delaware - the most obscure state in the Union. Most people don't know it exists. What is it known for? Nothing. What distinguishes it from NJ? Unknown. Evidently, Joe Biden is its greatest citizen. Really."

Nope. Aubrey Plaza beat out "Pluggs" Biden

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WLeUt-jBE4Y

Sebastian said...

"The most obvious guess is that I am very slow to feel disgust. It's a strength."

Is it?

See, that's the rationalization bit.

It all depends on what there is to feel disgusted about. Said impersonally, not at all to bug Althouse.

But I do think the discovery of physical limitations can lead to interesting self-scrutiny, as here, linking the bodily Sitz to a new form of self-awareness. And of course the point applies to all of us.

Ann Althouse said...

To rationalize (in psychology) is "To explain or justify (one's behaviour or attitude) to oneself or others with plausible but specious reasons, usually unwittingly" (OED).

I don't think what I said amounts to that. You were asking me to find some behavior of mine that is in fact attributable to anosmia but that I'd explained in some other way. I didn't do that.

With the eyesight problem, I listed a bunch of things that I'd been doing that I hadn't explained in terms of eyesight but that I was now thinking could come from eyesight.

I don't think I've done that with the sense of smell, because I didn't previously think about myself as being slow to disgust and give some non-smell-related reason for it. I don't think I've ever talked about this trait of mine before. Not even sure I have it!

Ken B said...

Most of America's political problems — the tantrums, the dementia, the seething, the whining — would go away if California seceded.

Ken B said...

The slow with disgust is an interesting point. I think that is probably right.

My sense of smell isn’t impaired but it is sub-par, and the things that really disgust me usually are smells or associated to a smell.
If you live near Kitchener the scent of autumn is cow shit. The Mennonite farms.

Todd Galle said...

As to Delaware, it was in the original grant of land from Charles II to William Penn (1682). That lasted for a while, until the Delawarians wanted to fight the French and pirates. The Quakers in PA hemmed and hawed, and those in Delaware said "nuts" to the Philly Quakers, demanded their own representative house, and split from PA. It is a small state though, and given the recent concern about the Senate, should Delaware deserve 2 Senators?

Francisco D said...

To rationalize (in psychology) is "To explain or justify (one's behaviour or attitude) to oneself or others with plausible but specious reasons, usually unwittingly" (OED).

Yes. It is a defense mechanism that individuals use in an habitual manner.

Once confronted, it is no longer unwitting. People tend to be bitter clingers to their favorite rationalizations.

Such as voting for Democrats because Republicans are ... icky!

Unknown said...

@ rcocean

We Massholes are not agreeing to merge with RI. Not now, not evah.

-sw

Milwaukie guy said...

Wisconsin has a little Switzerland. I remember Door County as a big Luxembourger settlement. The only one in the Nation?

Michael K said...

I like the smell of the desert after rain. Raining today.

ceowens said...

Twenty fie years ago we were able to acquire,what is known around here as, a small “camp” on an equally small lake. The building is twelve miles from town, measures 20 by 30 feet, with kitchen, bedroom, loft, living area with fireplace, toilet but no shower or bath. Built on piers and with no insulation, it is strictly ½ Spring, Summer, ½ Autumn situation. There was a ritual, usually around mid-October, of pulling the boats, putting the dock furniture on the porch, emptying the refrigerator and draining the water. After one last look at a very quiet lake, it was back to town except for a couple of roof shoveling trips during the Winter. That drive home is my definition of melancholy.

Fifteen years ago we built another small building, 24 by 36 feet, just a few feet from the camp. This new one is livable all year and is actually attached to the camp. The Fall ritual is still the same. It is still melancholy.

robother said...

During leaves is my main remembered fall smell. I have a clear memory of riding my bike in full band regalia, to a Saturday football game, clear blue sky and leaves burning smell the whole ride.

exiledonmainstreet, green-eyed devil said...

Milwaukie guy said...

I remember Door County as a big Luxembourger settlement. The only one in the Nation?

10/21/18, 6:49 PM

There are also quite a few people of Belgian descent (both Flemish and Walloon) in that area. I haven't met people of Belgian ancestry anywhere else in the state.

Sebastian said...

"You were asking me to find some behavior of mine that is in fact attributable to anosmia but that I'd explained in some other way. I didn't do that.

With the eyesight problem, I listed a bunch of things that I'd been doing that I hadn't explained in terms of eyesight but that I was now thinking could come from eyesight.

I don't think I've done that with the sense of smell, because I didn't previously think about myself as being slow to disgust and give some non-smell-related reason for it. I don't think I've ever talked about this trait of mine before. Not even sure I have it!"

This is very interesting -- really!

I see the distinction between the smell and sight issues. True, lack of disgust is not a "ratio" in the strict sense, we'll have to think about a better term for seemingly plausible arguments of the sort "x is normally considered bad but it is actually good because x."

Josephbleau said...


Blogger Ken B said...
Most of America's political problems — the tantrums, the dementia, the seething, the whining — would go away if California seceded.

They would whine eventually when the west coast was conquered by China.

Phil 3:14 said...

Here in AZ the smell of fall is “outside”

As in “we can now go outside!”

BUMBLE BEE said...

If you treasure something you conserve it. The heady excitement of the spring and summer of life eventually fade to an understanding of the patterns of the human condition. Maturity is like the smell of autumn.

CStanley said...

The most obvious guess is that I am very slow to feel disgust.

I can understand this take on it, but like Jonathan Haidt I feel there is something to be gained also by having a sense of disgust. It serves a purpose.

DrSquid said...

I visited Napa Valley a few years ago in early November, just at the end of the harvest season. There were rotting grapes on the grounds of the vineyards and the aroma was just amazing. Like the smell of raisins mixed in with the smell fall leaves.

California is amazing. Too bad it's been taken over by lunatics.

Oso Negro said...

@ Althouse - You lived in Wayne, NJ? As a kid? If I recall, your father was a chemical engineer. Did he work for American Cyanamide?

Ann Althouse said...

"@ Althouse - You lived in Wayne, NJ? As a kid? If I recall, your father was a chemical engineer. Did he work for American Cyanamide?"

He worked for Dupont and the Sinclair (which became part of Atlantic Richfield). His specialty was petrochemicals.