The Wonderful Sense of Smell

I was just reading an article on writing that looked at Stephen King’s scary novel, It. It gave various tips, such as never to underestimate the power of smell. Having been blind for so many years, that sense has certainly been amplified in me by use. I’ve paid much more attention to it than when I walked through the world with its bossy older sister, sight. Vision, then, dominated my perception of the world. I can’t swear that all blind people tune into the fragrance of fallen leaves or the stench of bad breath, but I do. (Sorry, folks).
Smell has also given me more than just pleasure or displeasure, but it’s actually rescued me when I’ve been lost. My fiercely destination-oriented third dog, Handley, actually diagonaled across a street one day and took me along a sidewalk I sensed wasn’t my target sidewalk, and I searched through my brain for the different scenarios possible. Meanwhile, I kept walking, hoping for tactile or auditory clues. Eventually I found a clue, but it came from my nose, not my feet or ears. “Chemicals, I almost said aloud.
I kept walking and after a couple hundred feet, I smelled the lovely, rich aroma of coffee. I knew exactly where I was. I’d passed first Footer’s dry cleaning and had now arrived in front of the Coffee Tree, both on Forbes Avenue between Shady and Murray. After a deep inhalation which probably caffeinated me a little , I found my way home.
King uses smell to enhance setting and stir emotions. In It he used smell to increase tension and up the terror. All of us should employ more sensory details in our writing.
But at the same time I’m urging this in writing students, I’m battling to curb it in my guy Dave. He just may have the longest nose of any of my shepherd, and he loves applying it to flower pots, hedges, bushes, grass, telephone poles. Just last week I began to employ the horrific “Gentle Leader,” a kind of restraint that goes around his muzzle and clips behind his ears as well as to the leash. The “Gentle leader” pinches his nose when he pounces on a plant and reminds him of his higher calling, guiding the blind. But Dave is not happy with these new restraints and slows to a crawl until I grow impatient and slide the thing off. Then he speeds along, nose in the air, just long enough to feign remorse, but soon afterward takes a sniff of something else pleasurable to his nose. Unlike me, he doesn’t think anything is stenchy. It’s all delightful.


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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