Scents and sense in the outdoors

Miles walked today: 5.92mi / 9.45km
Total training miles to date: 63.04mi / 101.4km
Days left ’til I leave: 41

Last week, I made the transition from treadmill to asphalt (I’m up to 6.5 miles at one go). Even in Oregon’s pre-spring drear, my senses awaken when I am outdoors.

It struck me this morning that most of my life is spent going from my home box to my car box to the store box and back again. All of these boxes are climate controlled and (thankfully) weather-proof.

One of the astonishing things about walking outdoors are the smells.

I’m amazed that, as cars pass me on the road, even for a fraction of a second, I know more about the passengers than they realize. A tiny whiff of cigarette smoke or diesel fumes say a lot. The same occurs when passing homes in my neighborhood at 3 miles an hour. I can tell you which ones heat with wood, which ones use a lot of fragrance sprays and scented candles, what’s for breakfast… I can actually smell it from the street.

On my first day out, I passed a house that has an adorable chicken coop in the back (I politely observed without gawking). The next time I was out, the breeze blew in a different direction and I nearly gagged. At first, I thought someone’s septic was oozing. Nope. Just eau de poulet and canard. And to think, all these years I’ve wanted chickens I didn’t know they could smell so eye-burningly pungent.

The other common thing in agricultural areas outside of Salem are burn piles. During times of low fire risk, people are permitted to set fire to small piles of brush and leaves… and whatever. Walking down the roads on a clear day this weekend, I started to taste soot. It was bizarre. It was someone’s burn pile. I’ve lived out here in the country for 6 years, but this odor still takes me by surprise!

This morning, I had the experience of attempting to not step on literally thousands of small earthworms, scooching up from the waterlogged crop fields to the safety of the wet road. I’m starting to think that walking in the world isn’t for the squeamish, because the flattened worms were rather fishy (is there such thing as earthworm roadkill?) and I could smell a dead possum before I saw it.

Walking outside is also making me realize how deadly humans are to their environment — exhaust, pesticides, chemical fragrance, burning plastics. Even with just three walks in, the smells around me make me want to be more careful with this precious planet we call home.

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