Home; we use this word a lot. For all of its vague specificity, home is rarely a place to which we can assign absolute physicality. Home is my apartment, with cozy couches and tall windows in the living room that let in beautiful light in the early hours of the day. Home is the town I grew up in, but it’s also the city where my parents now live, a place that in turn is home because I spent six years there during and after college. Home is my face nestled into the shoulder of my closest friend and home is an apple orchard on fire with the colors of autumn and home is a booth at your favorite bar on a rainy Friday night. When I am traveling back to New England I’m traveling home, and when I’m ready to come back, I’m returning home. Sometimes we feel like we’re at home and other days like we have no home. It is a fickle thing, the notion of home.
Yet I find a comforting permanence in the smells of home. The indistinct notes of distant memory that take us by surprise on a late night walk home, or strong, vidid recollections that come to mind as we pass a bakery at dawn. Our physical homes are often illusive, rife with fluctuation, but a strong scent holds the power to transport us across great distances and time itself. Smelling the faintest trace of wood smoke sends me to the living room in the house where I grew up, lights low and the wood stove bathing the room is pulsing orange. The spicy sweetness of pumpkin lands me in Vermont, my feet pushing through piles of crunchy, fallen leaves. Salt on the breeze and the hushed tones of breaking waves are Tenant’s Harbor, Maine, where I spent a week every summer in childhood.
If you’re feeling adrift, casting about for a place to call home, find your favorite smells. They won’t draw you a map bearing directions to your special place, but they very well may form a constellation with which to orient yourself.