Last week I was lighting a bunch of matches outside of school. I needed to photograph a small pile of burnt matches, and they become extremely fragile after having been burnt, so I hunkered down outside the door, pulled out a large box of redbirds and went to town on ’em. After I had gone through about twenty, someone walked out and gave me a small amount of shit; they could smell the matches burning inside and apparently this was a bad thing. Personally, after having lit so many in one spot, I could barely smell them at all (except later, on the sides of my fingers) but I shrugged, ignored her, lit another twenty and proceeded to go shoot them. The whole interaction got me to thinking about the smell of smoke, how noticeable it is, how it carries – our ability to smell it so readily being perhaps some evolutionary throwback when fire was something to be feared?
Last night, I was out on a strange, spur-of-the-moment hike. I did very little yesterday, so it struck me as a good idea to walk from my house to… somewhere northward. It turned out pretty well, though I ended it short of my original target of Yonge & Eglinton. While wandering along a relatively opulent residential street, I caught the faint whiff of a fireplace. I’m not sure if this is universal to everyone, but that smell has always brought about thoughts of home, contentedness, and warmth (literal and otherwise). My childhood home in Marathon, ON, had a fireplace, and furthermore, I’ve done a lot of camping over the years. The firepit is the nexus of the camp site, the kitchen, the living room, the television.
I think wood smoke sits happily next to gasoline and permanent markers in the category of smells which reference pleasant activity, and thereby become pleasant themselves.