Friday, October 9, 2009

Hay, Smell the Roses?

What events do you remember because of smell?

It was late at night but the moon shone so brightly that the fresh-baled hay could be clearly seen lying in the field like twine-bound caskets of recently fallen soldiers. These 50 pound straw blocks had that day been pushed out the tail of a baler onto the stubbled field that had days earlier been waist high and green.

I was there to "stook" the bales, choosing to do so under the stars to avoid the daytime 90-degree plus heat that hits with merciless fervour. It was much cooler at night, making even the sweat forming on my forehead seem refreshing rather than burning, as it did during those hot Okanagan summer days of 1969. The night air was refreshing, even if the dew made the bales a few pounds heavier.

Stooking was what we called it then, although I learned later that it was an archaic word used for "stacking sheaves of wheat or other grass-like crops to lean together in upright groups of 12" and left to dry. In our case we stacked the rectangular bales in towers of 4 or more, depending on how close the orphan bales were together and how lazy the stooker was. After drying they were collected on a tractor-drawn trailer and stored in lofts, barns or just under cover somewhere on the farm, handy to feed the livestock in the winter. Bales were high-tech compared to our original method when farmhands walked the field with pitchforks scooping loose hay onto a moving trailer from where it had been left to dry in little dome-shaped piles throughout the field. Of course, today most bales are round like slices from a giant straw log and could not be stooked or even moved except by machine.

While my memory of this summer moonlit image is as clear as a Kodak moment, it is not what I remember, and miss, the most. I have lost my ability to smell.  Most people don't know that 90% of those of us who have Parkinson's Disease have "olfactory dysfunction".  You would think that a tremour, stiffness, depression, insomnia and the list of other symptoms would be enough.  But loss of smell is a better early indicator of PD than any other signs.   I can hear you now sniffing just to check your own nasal skills.

Despite my current anosmia (what a funny word for loss of smell), I can still "smell" the fresh cut hay of 40 years ago. It is a fragrance filled with memories of being 15, when life was a full-steam-ahead freight train rushing into the future as if the present had no appeal.  Those days were spent at the beach (mostly sleeping due to the fatigue of a night's stooking), enjoying grape Popsicles, juke box music and diving off the "tower" into Kalamalka Lake to impress the vacationing girls that strolled out on the pier.

The scents (not sense) of my youth sometimes haunt me. Like the phantom pain in an amputated hand I "smell" the damp and warm cedar sawdust when passing a sawmill, like the ones my father worked in. I "smell" the fresh baked bread just out of my Grandma's wood stove oven, sitting on racks beckoning my Grandpa and uncles from the fields or orchard for lunch, when it would be devoured. I remember well the lilac bushes that crowded and arched over the lawn, and their distinctive aroma mixing with the tang of fresh cut grass as I pushed the lawnmower under their fragrance-filled flowers.

The loss of smell is simply a reality for me, but I am grateful that PD has not destroyed my other senses. I find myself being thankful this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend for the use of 4 other senses, appreciate the memories of the smells of my youth, and every once in a while I stop and "smell" the lilacs.  Maybe I have traded the days of nonsense for 'non-scents'.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know losing smell sense was a sign. You are so informative. But I too now am smelling those pictured lilacs. We had several bushes around our house. You bring out the past in all of us.