When I was home in Michigan, I got an unexpected reintroduction to an often underappreciated sense: smell.  Having recorded a psychology textbook or two, I know that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory.  Most people experience this when someone prepares a favorite childhood meal (this was certainly the case for me Friday when my mom made Swedish meatballs).  In New York, your sense of smell becomes a bit overwhelmed, especially in the summer.  Cole Porter even wrote a lyric about the unique summer smell of NYC trash in his song “I Happen to Like New York.”  But the smells that remain on my mind today are of freshly cut wood and freshly cut mint.  The programs at the wedding I attended this weekend weren’t made of paper, but rather very thinly cut wood that gave off the aroma of cedar.  And as I drove to and from the wedding through the fields between St. Johns and Pewamo, the car filled with the smell of mint.

(My sister Stephanie and I after the wedding, in front of a corn field)

I always tell people this when I talk about my hometown, that if you drive along the backroads in late summer during harvest, you can smell the mint in the air.  I haven’t experienced this, however, since high school.  St. Johns, if childhood lore is to be believed, produces 75% of all the mint used in chewing gum.  In August, it hosts the Mint Festival and even crowns the Mint Queen (I knew a few of the beauty pageant winners in my day).  The weather was beautiful this weekend, the sky large and blue, with clouds like cotton candy.  Driving north on Francis Road toward M-21, we passed several fields being harvested, combines slowly obliterating large swathes of plants and filling the air with the smell of spearmint.

Kurt Cobain, the troubled but brilliant rock star who led a sea change that left America awash in grunge music, killed himself while I was in high school.  The singular sound of grunge rock, its volatility and its honesty, made the phrase “pop music” into dirty words for my generation.  Nirvana, the band led by Cobain, and their Seattle compatriots Pearl Jam defined the style and attitude of the early 90s. They gave us searing, distorted guitar riffs and also flannel shirts.  I was always more partial to Pearl Jam, but Cobain gave us what will probably be remembered as the anthem of the 1990s: “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  I still think it’s a remarkably poetic title, and it’s not taken from the lyrics of the song itself.  What I didn’t know until a few years ago is that Teen Spirit is a brand of deodorant.

(Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the 90s grunge rock band Nirvana)

I’m back in New York now, and begin performances of We Outran the Sun this week.  The music of the song cycle falls somewhere in the vast continuum between Cole Porter and Kurt Cobain.  As we continue through this July heat wave, the smell of trash will permeate New York and I’ll certainly need some deodorant (though I have more of an affinity for Old Spice than Teen Spirit).  But all of these smells, from fields of mint to a city full of trash, make up a part of me, just each of us are the summation of our memories, relationships, and experiences.  I’ve been sharing some of the relationships that have shaped me through this blog, and will do so in performance this week.  I hope it’s made you think a little bit about the people who make up the tapestry of your own life.

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