Monday, February 18, 2013

Coming to Her Senses

I recently attended the Learning Lab’s Lunch for Literacy, in Boise, as I have done for about 18 years. I was a board member for three years and have supported the organization ever since. 

This year’s speaker was Alyssa Harad, author of Coming to My Senses. She specializes in writing about perfume. The big takeaway for me was that we have so few words to describe what we smell. Try describing that special odor when the thunderstorm has spattered up the dust across a desert of sage and bitterbrush. Just try. 

The odors on another world would certainly be different. How do I describe them in human terms, when it is so difficult to describe even familiar smells? My olfactory powers are fairly limited in the first place, as my wife will attest. I practically have to dip my beak in a bottle of perfume to register any sensation from it. 

I can evoke the scent of sagebrush by writing the word, if you have smelled it yourself. How will I get you to experience the odor as a ragoar works up a sweat? It is a puzzle that would stump Rubik.


  1. hmmm, there's a few - musty, dank, pungent, earthy. But she's so right. How about a newborn baby's smell? Or that of a fresh licked newborn calf(since it's the season).

  2. I've been reading Alyssa's book, a few pages a night, before bed. Obviously, she is--I can't say it any other way--obsessed by her subject, but luckily, she is driven to write about it in a most literary, creative and intelligent way. While some readers might wish she had chosen a topic of broader interest and/or greater social importance than perfume upon which to lavish her passion and prodigious writing skills, I recommend the book to anyone seeking a vocabulary for describing scents.