It might be a small case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) previously unnoticed. Or at least previously untriggered.
An hour or so I started getting a whiff or two of smoke. Very faint. Enough so the first few I wasn’t even sure that I was really smelling it.
Then there was a bit more – but not much. Enough so that I thought it might be something minor like a light heating up with some dust on it. Sort of like that burnt smell you get when you turn on the forced air furnace for the first time in the fall and the dust in the burner goes up.
But it didn’t go away, and I got a couple more stronger whiffs. Now it’s time to get up from my desk and check it out.
Nothing in the hallway at all. Go out into the living room. Nothing really, maybe just the faintest trace.
Open the front door and step out – and it hits me like a hammer. It wasn’t my imagination.
The cause was obvious. We’re hitting an unusually cool stretch for Los Angeles in late May, highs barely reaching 70°F, and the lows down into the upper 40’s. It’s 56°F now. Someone in the neighborhood, possibly a couple someones, had their fireplaces going, or a backyard firepit for their holiday BBQ. The end result was that the air was heavy with the scent of wood smoke.
No biggie, right? That’s a homey, comfortable, happy memory smell of fall and winter in Vermont, Christmas mornings… Well, it used to be. Now?
Remember last November less than a half mile from here as we had our valuables packed in the cars ready for the “Go!” command to evacuate?
That would explain the way a whiff of wood smoke put my brain into high alert mode and being outside in the dark with the air filled with the scent doubled my heart rate in a matter of seconds.
Olfactory cues can trigger strong associations with specific memories. It might be a while before the smell of wood smoke again means a cozy evening in front of the fireplace instead of panic and evacuate.