Like a morbidly fascinating party game, I remember once contemplating a question presented to me: If you had to give up one of your five senses, which one could you do without?
In my younger years, I imagine my answer may have been “smell.” It didn’t seem as tragic as losing your sight, hearing, or your ability to touch things and discern their temperature, texture, rhythms, pulse. It didn’t dawn on me that giving up your ability to smell would necessitate giving up your ability to taste, too. How tragic it seems to me now to think of a flavorless existence, eating only for sustenance and never for pleasure.
I thought about smell today as I dropped the kayak into the cove and set off on a morning paddle out to the Sound. Since the pandemic came to our shores, I – and I imagine many people – have wondered if every little dry cough, every springtime allergy-induced sniffle, or throbbing headache was the onset of Covid-19 illness. Besides fever, loss of smell and taste seem to be common symptoms.
Daily, I have taken solace in deeply inhaling the smell of coffee in the morning, or freshly mowed grass, or the scent of basil, cilantro and mint thriving in the cedar planters out back. I’ve taken the first morning bite of the blueberry-lemon oatmeal I favor, and thought, “I’m ok. I’m ok today.”
My morning paddle was a cacophony of sound and fragrance. Baby ducks floated alongside their mother in the cove as I launched; she spoke to them, telling them to be wary of my presence. Low tide has a certain smell – funky and familiar. I rounded the bend and headed out, passing honeysuckle bushes on the bank that filled my nostrils with sweetness and invoked childhood memories of plucking their flowers, pulling at their pistils and letting the tiny drop of nectar fall to my tongue.
Someone had already fired up coals at the Ocean Beach pavilion – a midday BBQ’s start. Caribbean beats quickened the cadence of my paddling. My left foot kept time. Heading out to the Sound brought the fresh sea air to my face, a salty, misty grit. A passing ferry rumbled by and sent wake waves and the smell of its exhaust my way.
The beach had begun to fill with people, eager for a prime spot. The sounds of their laughter found me offshore. The red jellyfish came early this year. They were near absent last August, and yet here they were, all around me in late June — no doubt a symptom of the mild winter and warmer-than-normal waters.
I made my way back, passing shoreline waders catching crabs, holding them captive in plastic dollar-store buckets. Lovers stood hand-in-hand on the rock formations. Giggling girls posed for selfies and adjudicated them before deciding whether or not they were share worthy. Children squealed as waves tickled their toes. The BBQ was in full swing then. I inhaled and imagined meats crisping on the grill. A brief whiff of cannabis came my way – not the skunky kind; rather, a sweet citrusy strain. Citron or Tangerine Dream, maybe, I thought, and recalled the bygone memory of the happy buzz they bring on.
The egrets weren’t around today, nor the osprey that’s typically tending the high-up nest. But the oyster catchers were out, feasting on the shellfish marooned by the tide, and the baby ducks were still swimming in the cove when I finally beached the kayak and gratefully breathed the morning in.