Sense memory

The Packet (Clarenville) - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky’s col­umn ap­pears in 35 SaltWire news­pa­pers and web­sites in At­lantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetele­gram.com — Twit­ter: @wanger­sky.

We for­get. We are for­get­ting right now, even as you read this, shed­ding thoughts and words and mem­o­ries. It’s a small and con­stant tragedy, a per­sonal en­tropy.

I’m up and on the street at 6:30 a.m., walk­ing, and at first, the street is quiet ex­cept for one lone grey and pass­ing car, its head­lights thrown out wide on the wet pave­ment. It’s still mostly dark out, rainy, the clouds bunched in over the hills to the north­west.

I hear their voices first, many of them, loud for so early in the morn­ing, and then the pod of run­ners lopes into view around the curve of street, 10 or 15 of them, no lights or re­flec­tive vests, but a tum­ble of bright colours.

Yelling over the slap of their own feet, and I can re­mem­ber run­ning, the long stride and thud of it, but never run­ning while talk­ing, too. I never had the wind for that.

They van­ish, but, af­ter they pass, the sound of them lingers like a con­trail be­hind a jet, wait­ing to be shred­ded, dis­sem­bled by the wind.

It’s funny how the run­ners round the next cor­ner and drag all hu­man­ity with them, like wa­ter down the drain, as if the de­par­ture of their mo­bile com­mu­nity leaves me even more alone than when I started out for work. But it does, and the quiet is even qui­eter.

The rain starts in fits and spits, a shower that I hear spat­ter­ing against my jacket at first, be­fore I feel scat­tered mist on my face.

Where the new science build­ing is be­ing built at the uni­ver­sity, the heavy equip­ment is all wak­ing up for the day; I won­der if the con­struc­tion work­ers sim­ply stop hear­ing the over­lap­ping backup tones, if they get so used to there al­ways be­ing some­thing hec­tor­ing them. How many warn­ings can you lis­ten to be­fore you stop hear­ing them? They’re only on the iron­work right now, and some­times you get a sin­gle ham­merblow on an I-beam that rings like a bell while you’re walk­ing by.

Soon it’s rain­ing more heav­ily, and I stop to put on my rain gear. There are fall mush­rooms bulging up through the turf next to the side­walk, cow mush­rooms and the white fat puff­balls that seem to her­ald fall. The rain is heavy enough to do its street magic, lift­ing a film of oil and ex­haust from the pave­ment and car­ry­ing it to the gut­ters and storm sew­ers.

The brook that runs by the hos­pi­tal is full and tea-brown, and for the first time this year, there are a hand­ful of fallen leaves on the sur­face of the wa­ter, head­ing to­wards the pond.

It’s not un­til the bridge to the hos­pi­tal that it hits me, and even then, at first, it re­ally only win­kles its way into the edge of my con­scious­ness. I’m not smelling any­thing ex­cept the sharp wet metal of the rain, and then, all at once, I am smelling some­thing both new and fa­mil­iar. A smell I haven’t smelled since spring.

That fine first note of au­tumn, that hit of com­post­ing wet leaves — its only real vis­ual equiv­a­lent, the whorl of wood grain on the out­side sur­face of a fresh horse chest­nut.

Wood smoke can’t be far away now, nor the chill of frost.

Deserts, moun­tains; I know it makes sense from a prac­ti­cal point of view that their re­spec­tive scales are hard to re­mem­ber, that their sheer mas­sive size makes them hard to in­dex. I know that their sin­gu­lar height and breadth can be breath­tak­ingly new ev­ery time they spring into view.

But the first au­tumn smell of wet leaves, that loamy, rich, feral fa­mil­iar depth of de­cay?

How could I not re­mem­ber that?

It strikes me as hard as the smell it­self: how could I pos­si­bly for­get?

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