Every Other November
I’ve been preparing myself for this day for a few years but, as I write, “this day” is still twelve hours in the future. It won’t be by the time I punctuate the last sentence.
It’s strange to go to bed without knowing the world I’ll wake up to, but that’s how I go to bed every night. On some nights, though, the difference feels thicker in the air; like the iron scent of snow.
When I was little, I didn’t believe that snow had a smell. It was always accompanied by the acrid drift of chimney smoke from up the hill and that’s what I assumed I was smelling. But I smelled snow in college too, on a campus bereft of fireplaces and brick chimneys.
I’ve read that the smell of impending snow is just that: a combination of humidity and cold weather, ice on the air. Apparently, there’s also a nerve in the brain activated by certain scents, stimulated by cold as well. The most intriguing theory is that freezing weather slows down the movement of molecules in the air, making smells less forceful and present.
Snow’s distinctive smell may be simply a conspicuous absence of other smells.
It’s not just that we mistake some other scent, but that we mistake a dearth of other scents in general, for that of snow. We’re warned of the coming blizzard by a calm to which we aren’t accustomed, warned of change by a peculiar stillness with which we aren’t comfortable.
Sometimes I wake to a blanket of white, other times to the same world that sang me to sleep. Still other times, it’s smoke I was smelling all along: the sour grating of something burning in the distance.