Remembering Smell

Bonnie Blodgett is the author of the Garden Letter. Her garden writing has been published in Garden Design, Fine Gardening, and Better Homes and Gardens. She is the gardening expert for Midwest Home and writes a weekly gardening column in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. But her latest book, Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing–and Discovering–the Primal Sense, isn’t entirely sunny.

In November 2005, Bonnie Blodgett came down with a nasty cold. After a quick shot of a popular nasal spray up each nostril, the back of her nose was on fire. Eventually, she discovered that her olfactory nerve was destroyed, perhaps forever. She had lost her sense of smell.

Bonnie Blodgett will be at Magers & Quinn to read from Remembering Smell: A Memoir of Losing–and Discovering–the Primal Sense at 7:30pm, on Friday, June 25. Here’s an excerpt from the book to whet your appetite.

I’m told my nose is my best feature. It’s long and straight and has a high bridge with a bump at the top that is a perfect perch for my thick glasses. My nose is large for my face, but I have an unusually small face. That makes me thankful for my nose. No one would describe me as mousy. When I enter a room full of strangers, I can trust my nose to announce that here is a serious, thoughtful person. And by the way, where are the appetizers? Do we smell a touch of cumin? But even though I could pick out the Chanel No. 5 from among ten other perfumes in a crowded room, there was a time when I took my sense of smell for granted. I assumed that it was indestructible. I certainly never asked myself which I valued more, my long, straight nose or what went on inside it.

My story begins on a Wisconsin interstate just before half of it veers south toward Chicago and half goes west to places you’ve probably never heard of–like the Wisconsin Dells, Altoona, Eau Claire–and then finally to the Twin Cities. I was driving home to St. Paul after a weekend visit with my daughter Caroline, a student at UW–Madison, when my nose began picking up a weird smell. Had I stepped in something? What could be causing this peculiar odor?

I pulled into a Kwik Trip to top off the tank and check my shoes. Nothing suspicious there. Maybe the heater fan was sucking up the smell from the engine and blowing it through the vent. Was a dead bird in there? Ridiculous. The smell was all in my head, not my nose. Nerves. Saying goodbye to Caroline had been more difficult than usual. She was as lonely and homesick at Madison as her older sister, Alex, had been happy there. How different my girls were.

My own college years weren’t exactly blissful. While other students were getting acquainted with one another, I was out foraging for plant materials, mainly tree branches of a certain shape and size, with which to transform my cinder-block cubeof a dorm room into a leafy forest glade. The smells of oak leaves and pine sap soothed my homesickness for Minnesota. Years later, when my husband, Cam, and I settled down to raise a family, I couldn’t wait to plant a garden. I dug up the patchy lawn in the backyard.

Gardening to me is an artistic endeavor, and a garden of one’s own represents the ultimate in creative freedom. In fact, in my forties I became so greedy for that anything-goes fix I got when planning a new border or rigging up a water feature that I decided to quit my job editing a city magazine to launch a publication of my own, the Garden Letter: Green Thoughts for the Northern Gardener. When my little magazine won an award from the Garden Writers Association for the Art of Garden Communication, a category invented just for it, I realized I’d turned a corner: I was a garden writer.

Excerpted from REMEMBERING SMELL: A Memoir of Losing—and Discovering—the Primal Sense by Bonnie Blodgett. Copyright © 2010 by Bonnie Blodgett. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.


Bonnie Blodgett will read at Magers & Quinn on Friday, June 25, at 7:30pm. Details are here.–David E