What the nose knows

Here are a couple of images of a local tomato harvest that I thought you might enjoy. This field is across the street from tomatoes I showed you last week and immediately adjacent to sunflowers I featured here a month ago. The image of the harvester was taken as workers began to work the field a week ago and that of the bin was taken just the other day. I have often thought that it would be nice if someone would develop a technology that would allow you to smell aromas associated with pictures displayed on your computer monitor, tablet, or smartphone. If such a technology did exist and you were to click the image to the right, you would sense the rich aroma which emanated from the transport bin. The load was heavy and fruit at the bottom was getting a bit squashed. When I stood still I could hear the drip, drip, drip of sweet streams of fluid. Sweet, but not overpowering. The scent wafted up my nostrils and seemed to settle in that place, adjacent to the nose bridge and just below my eyes; that place where the pads of your glasses sit. As I continued to breath, the aroma matured as chemical signals steeped in the moistened walls of the sinus. Smell became taste as a cavalcade of electrical impulses traveled to my brain and from there to my parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands. Almost instantly I was salivating. I shook off the sensory barrage and captured a few images. Forgive me for continuing with a comparatively unpleasant story, but I must report that I experienced a similar sensory phenomenon the other morning, though with a very different outcome. I was driving to town when I was assaulted by the odorous emanation of an as yet unseen, but well known, source. If you’ve ever wondered about such things you may be interested to know that the highly noxious smell produced by skunks may be sourced to a number of chemicals produced by the animal’s scent glands, mostly thiols (sulfurous mercaptans) and their thioacetate derivatives. The enclosed space of the cab filled with scent about a half-mile or so before I saw the offending (but unfortunately dead) animal in the middle of the road. Rather than causing me to salivate, the physiological cascade made my eyes water. I was just a bit disgusted when I realized that, in the same way that a sweet chemical mélange allowed me to taste tomatoes, this offending onslaught made me feel as though I was tasting the (literal) wretched secretion of the skunk. As soon as I was upwind, and though the morning was cold, I opened both windows to flush the cab. End of story.



17 thoughts on “What the nose knows

  1. This is the post in which I finally gave up trying to respond via my smart phone and knew I’d have to clear some time to fire up the computer to make a response. The android app for the phone doesn’t always like WordPress, and it gives endless trouble (quite literally endless, as the loop to sign-in doesn’t STOP). First, I loved to see a tomato harvest in action. Where I live, the tomatoes have two sources, the grocery store or the small patch in the back yard. In the back yard we start tomato plants indoors in April and transplant outdoors at the end of June. Then we tend to pick most fruit green at the end of August/beginning of September to allow the harvest to ripen indoors where it is safe from frost. Large scale production is generally not done, so I’ve never seen a tomato field. Second, there must be something off in the make-up of my olfactory senses, because I actually like the aroma of skunk. It rarely bothers me.

    • Ha! I admitted to Maurice that I really do like the smell of a field that has been freshly spread with liquid manure! Don’t tell anyone! Skunk though … nope … not one of my favorites! We’re all different, aren’t we! D

  2. Can that tractor actually drive through a field of tomatoes without smashing bushels full? I guess that would represent an awful lot of hand picking. Your story about the skunk reminds me of the elementary school experiments we used to do by closing our eyes, holding an item under our nose, say a pear, and then eating a piece of apple.

    • Hey there Steve. If I had positioned myself 90 degrees to the left or to the right of where I was actually standing, you would have been able to see that there’s about 18″ between each row (the width of the tire, plus a bit) and that the rows themselves are as wide as the wheel-base of the tractor (and harvester)! Isn’t it nice how that all works out! No squishing at all! The same thing goes for corn fields except that the wide heel-base of big tractors allows for multiple rows to be straddled at once. All harvesting and spraying and cultivating equipment has to be designed to accommodate an efficiency of crop spacing. If you think about a combine .. only the pickups in the head have to be appropriately spaced … once the wheels progress to where the corn plants had been … they’ve already been harvested (the head runs in front of all of the wheels). Good, and perceptive, question though! I cannot predict the outcome of the experiment you have described, having never done it myself. Does one simply get confused? Or do you find that once sense simply overpowers the other? D

      • Depends on whether you think of it as confusion or being fooled … I guess they might be considered the same. Basically, you taste what you smelled. So the apple tastes like a pear. That said, I am sure that a piece of garlic bread would probably not taste like Key Lime Pie. 🙂 Now it makes sense and I should have figured that out for myself as I have seen the same thing in our local potato fields.

  3. Are those the same tomatoes that the sunflowers were looking, so disapprovingly at the other day? I wonder what they’d say if the skunk was placed next to them. I have never had the pleasure of encountering a skunk – there are none around here – but I can tell you that the other day when I cleaned out the basement and found Alan’s old backpack under some stuff I certainly encountered several different flavours of mercaptans when I opened it up. Lunch from 7-8 months previous had completely putrified inside. Aii Yii Yiiii! I most certainly did NOT try to clean it up. Straight to the landfill it went. Too bad – nice backpack. Just two days ago, on the way home from work I was thinking all the way home of doing some cod and salmon on the barbecue (wrapped in foil). I live on a hill – the highest point in the city in fact – and when I arrived home the farms down in Mount Pearl had spread that noxious liquid manure stuff on the fields. Oh, my. No Barbecue – I could hardly stand out by the door, let alone cook there. Suffice it to say the fish got cooked in the oven 🙂

    • If you promise you won’t tell anyone … I actually find the smell of freshly spread manure sort of … pleasing … comforting … reassuring. Is that crazy? Now, I’m talking cow manure Maurice, hog and poultry ‘product’ are entirely different (very, very, different) matters. D

  4. Your images are ‘stronger’ than the story of the poor skunk – so this post leaves me with the pleasant imagined smell and taste of tomatoes! .-)

    The bottom image is very intriguing. A typical Pairodox image, a combination of nature and technology, unusual combination of colors (you expect green+red but not blue+red), delicate details – e.g. the metal levers or whatever that is that are as red as the tomatoes.

  5. Oh what a sensory comparison! And it’s funny that you mention being able to smell through our computers, tablets etc. my post this week contains a similar suggestion!

  6. It is amazing how you come upon such a wide variety of sensory and visual experience within such a small radius of physical space. It takes only the slightest prompting to set your mind and imagination into motion. Whereas most of us don’t think about the things that set your mind going, time and again you manage to discover images that spark intelligent and creative reflection.

  7. Got a good chuckle out of this one. The scent of the skunk is one of nature’s worst! There’s a stretch of Centre St. in Newton that always stinks of skunk. Not sure what goes on there but the stink stays with you even when you’re a good distance away and the windows are closed! Thank goodness for that eventual breath of fresh air! Love the contrast of the red/orange and bright blue. You’d think they’d figure out a better system that would protect the fruit at the bottom!

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