Seasonal smells

    Guest Posts on County 10 are provided by contributors and the opinions, thoughts, and comments within are their own and may not necessarily reflect those of County 10.

    Our barbeque grill took that final step beyond repair last week. After over a decade of faithful service, the elements took their toll, and the prospect of continuing to light it with a stick match, hoping there was just enough propane to ignite the burners, but not enough to send the grill into orbit was too much.

    Sutherlands had a similar model, with new features that are always the hallmark of an American-made product.


    We loaded the old grill into my truck and took it to the recycling center east of Smith Road.

    Under the grill was the accumulation of a winter that has lasted far too long. The leaves we weren’t able to rake up when winter hit over five months ago were trapped in layers of ice. The sun never had a chance to melt the mass of slowly decaying organic matter under the protection of the old grill.

    Exposed to the afternoon heat (if you can call 37 degrees heat) the ice began to melt. A little salt added to the upper layer created a wet mass of decayed, semi-decayed, and flash-frozen elm, cottonwood, and ash leaves.

    The first load with a square shovel produced the unmistakable smell of spring. A mix of organic decay, with just a hint of the hope of summer, wafted from each shovel full dropped into a dumpster.


    Seasons have their own aromas, they always have. As a kid in Arkansas, there were four seasons, and each of them could be identified by their smell.

    Here in Wyoming, we have fewer seasons. Okay, we still have the same four seasons but in much more erratic patterns.

    Winter can last eight or ninth months as this one promises to do, and spring just a few days, or on occasion, just an afternoon.


    In 1976 I was working the breakdown at the now defunct Louisiana Pacific Planning Mill located off Monroe in southwest Riverton along equally non-existent railroad tracks that once kept the promise of industry in Fremont County.

    The first 10 days after returning from the University of Wyoming for my second summer at the mill it was cold, then it snowed about 10 inches on the first weekend in June. By the following Tuesday the temperature hit 102 degrees, (It is Wyoming after all) and every low area at the plant was filled with water.

    That too had a smell. Each time I get a whiff of wet sawdust, with a bit of dirt and just a touch of early summer pollen I’m taken back to the chain-driven breakdown room where I rolled off layers of 2x4s, 1x4s, and 2x3s as the forklift operators brought in six-foot high stacks of the rough cut lumber, fresh off the truck from Dubois.


    Summer has its own aroma. We have soundtracks in movies, and flash tracks for songs, but no one has ever tried a smell track. (maybe “Smell-o-vision?) Sure, the old “scratch and sniff” magazine ads from the 1970s and 80s offered a synthetic sensory experience to smell test the latest aftershave, shampoo, or perfume. It was interesting to try, but did anyone buy the product based on that cheesy smell scratched from a glossy magazine page?

    When the irrigation water hits the ditch for the first time the smell of the just departed winter makes one more play with that dirty, smokey, organic smell of too much time under a pile of old blankets in a cold basement, (refreshing isn’t it?)

    The smell of alfalfa blooming, garden flowers, and the hint of pollen floating off the flowering fruit trees is the smell of spring in other more temperate climates, but it arrives in summer for us. No matter when it arrives, I’ll take it.

    That’s summer’s scent in the early months. The best it can offer in our agricultural section of Rocky Mountain paradise comes just after the alfalfa begins to bloom. When the world’s most popular legume is approximately 10% in bloom, the protein content is at its peak and it’s time to cut. Those huge windrows mean profit for the farmer and survival for cattle and horses across the nation, and it smells fabulous.

    Freshly mown alfalfa has a slightly more metallic smell that you can taste. It’s different than the smell of fresh-cut grass, but it is just as wonderful to the senses.

    The other scents of summer aren’t necessarily all that fragrant.

    As a kid, my parent’s farm/ranch operation was nestled between five dairy farms within two miles of us. When the wind was just right, and the combination of sun and wind had dried the winter’s accumulation of “organic” Holstein, Brown-Swiss, and Jersey deposits to just the right consistency, it was time to clean the corrals.

    The smell of rotting cow manure is an acquired taste. As my dad used to say when we got the first whiff from the neighbors, “It smells like money.”

    The only thing more pungent than steaming, decaying piles of cattle manure is the day-to-day operation of a swine farm. Pigs kept together in large open sheds generate an odor that borders on weapons-grade quality. It is the strongest of all agricultural aromas, though the ammonia emanating from a large poultry operation can challenge it on a hot, summer afternoon.

    The smells of summer soon depart, just as quickly as the very brief break in our arctic lifestyle it provides.

    Autumn arrives, and despite careful advertising, it’s not the smell of pumpkin lattes held by fashionable young women.

    Autumn in ag country is the smell of dirt, of dust rolling off the combine as oats, wheat, and corn are harvested. It’s a dusty, happy smell, and it should always be the smell of money, though the fickle markets that make farming such a gamble don’t always comply.

    Still, autumn is my favorite season, with long afternoons, and warm days interspersed with the first omens of impending winter. West concrete, brick, and metal walls on buildings hold the warmth of the day from late August to late October even as the cold portent of winter winds quickly cool the air around you. The combination smells like fall, and the accompanying sound of geese flying in huge Vs across the sky for warmer southern climates just adds to the multi-sensory experience.

    That leaves winter, cold, merciless, endless winter. The white madness as polar explorers once described the epic suffering in the far north or south.

    Winter’s smell comes with a hint of olive oil in the low-lying smoke of a winter’s fire. Gas and electricity heat most of our homes, but wood stoves have their place, especially in the Wind River Country, and these stoves filled with spruce, pine, fir, and even elm and cottonwood bring an aroma along with the warmth they provide.

    A season of olfactory delights, or perhaps delights mixed with a few aromas to avoid. Life in the erratic climate of Fremont County can be seen, heard, felt, tasted, and most often smelled as the seasons arrive and depart on our annual trip around the sun.

    The blooms can arrive as soon as they wish, and the winter can just go away for a while.  


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