Have you ever visited or driven past a chicken farm? My grandparents had a farm. They kept about twenty chickens. Not that. I’m talking about a chicken farm holding thousands of chickens. In Iowa, we lived about ten miles from a chicken farm. I remember as we drove that highway and neared this one particular hill before reaching the farm, I would take a deep breath and step on the pedal (only if I were driving, of course). I found the exact location where the smell would start to hold my breath to and just past the farm. That almost worked. But thousands of chickens radiate their aroma. And when I could hold my breath no any longer (and me a past synchronized swimmer), after blowing out, I have to suck a deep breath, which sent the fowl fumes plunging into my lungs. I guessing it’s not actually the chickens which smell nasty; I’m thinking it’s their poo.
The other day, my husband was visiting a dying person in a nursing home. Most nursing homes have their unique smell, too. I didn’t know the person so decided to wait in the car. Thirty minutes later he came out. The 93-year-old had just passed moments before he stepped into the room. Her daughter was with her, so my husband and her spent that thirty minutes together, talking about her mom and what to do next. Fast forward the thirty-minute visit. The moment my husband stepped into the car, I rolled down the windows. He stank. Death gases escaping the corpse in a small room had clung to him. Death really does stink. It’s a unique smell, nothing like a large chicken farm, but nasty to the olfactory glands.
Other nasty smells I quite vividly remember — a smashed rotten egg on my grandparents’ farm in Ohio, and a rotting hog corpse along a bank of a narrow waterway my husband and I canoed off the Erie Canal in New York. Vivid. My entire body quivers at the memories.
But I wonder… can we really describe with words nasty smells, or can we only describe our reaction to them? We can parallel the smell to another smell, but that’s not the same thing.
What’s a vivid nasty smell you remember? Can you describe your reaction to it? Can you describe the smell itself?