olfactory ghosts

01Nov10

I know it’s the day after Halloween, but let’s talk about being haunted. When I first moved to Seattle, I remember smelling an unfamiliar plant smell some evenings– especially at dusk. A salty green cabbage-like odor. It slowly occurred to me that I was smelling our new neighbor– the sea inlet, Puget Sound. I’d never been by the sea so long, especially in a northern setting, where the cold water gives off a different sort of aroma. Anyway, there are specific smells for every place, and most people are aware of the strong connection to nostalgia.

This year, I am being haunted by a smell that I think might be wild yeast. I catch it on artisan breads and Belgian style beers, which is why I think it might be yeast. But all of a sudden, I am smelling it EVERYWHERE. On my sons’ and husband’s skin and hair, when doors open as I walk down the street, in wafts of air from any direction. {Just in case you’re wondering, we’re not suffering from any yeast-based infections– thrush or rash or otherwise.} I love it– it’s warm and round and earthy, sweet and complex. And while the microscopic forms of yeast are not that interesting (unless you get even smaller than their outside forms, they tend to look like tic-tacs), the frequency of this experience has got me thinking all the time about the microbial botanical garden/zoo that we live inside of every moment. Just as you can see little pixel specks of light in everything once you understand the phenomena that make up the study of optics, so you can sense and imagine the world of too-small-for-the-naked-eye creatures that make their habitation all around us.

I imagine as I walk that I’m parting a sea of orbs and domes, invisible wonders like the improbably beautiful jellies we see floating around in our aquatic oceans. Electron microscopes back me up.

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5 Responses to “olfactory ghosts”

  1. 1 Sue

    The Nobel Prize website!?! Beautiful! I always feel like we’ve discussed something over coffee in reading your blog posts! The imagery you create with words is almost as visceral as your paintings! Keep up the good work, lady.

  2. Would that it were so, friend! With real coffee and real space. Soon, I hope.

  3. 3 thedoublemintlife

    Much on my mind also, though more pointed toward soil’s organisms and “life”. These micro-worlds we live in seem infinately deep. It reminds me of sourdough and how its starter is made merely by mixing water and flour and allowing the yeast naturally existing on the grain to grow and flourish, this then provides the levening for a tasty loaf. How amazing!

  4. 5 Beth Eisinger

    A beautiful image, Gala, of the air streaming around you is filled with amazing microscopic shapes. I have been looking at of Ernst Haekel’s work, a German naturalist, biologist-amazing etchings of microscopic organisms. The intricacy existing just underneath the surface of everything….


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