I don’t remember which dog I was running, but will not forget what hit me a couple mornings ago: a faint but unmistakable whiff of fall. It wasn’t there the morning before, arriving just that dawn on silent wings.
I used to joke about it this time of year on my radio show: “I can smell fall,” I’d say with an exaggerated sniff into the microphone, psyching up myself, and I hope, my listeners. But it’s not all folly. There is hope, the anticipation of days in the field. Promise.
Our dogs, of course, detect scent a thousand times better than we do. Does that mean they know fall is coming sooner than we do? Do they smell it “better” than we do, drinking in the rich flavors with more relish than mere humans? I will watch tomorrow, searching their faces for more intense purpose and their reaction to fall’s precursor smells.
I’ve read that of them all, our sense of smell is the one that rekindles the most vivid memories – staunch points from last season, crackling leaves, poignant moments with friends. Remember Thanksgiving dinner’s aromas? I sure do. Well, the odors rising from the earth and detritus lying on it whisper “hunting season” and all the portent it engenders, even more so than pumpkin pie and drumsticks.
Here on the desert, our native grasses seed out, then turn golden in their passage from vibrant life to dust once again. Stalks become straw, leaves droop with resignation. But we hunters know better. Their departure from the world of the living is our signal to embrace life.
Scientists probably have better descriptors for it, but to me, it’s not the much-belabored “crisp” bite in the air so many lazy writers overuse. It is a magical night when the tipping point is reached and you need long sleeves when you open the gate in the morning. It may not register on a porch thermometer, but our organs are more finely tuned and detect that minute distinction.
That subtle transition prompts mundane yet soul-sustaining activities: mental inventory of ammo, checking of boot laces, a frantic search for hunting license. Long minutes are devoted to your calendar when you should be working. And your dog training takes on an urgency unlike spring’s laid-back torpor.
Here, it’s a pastel mélange of sage, juniper, bunch grasses and volcanic soil. Individual aromas blend, prompted by a subtle change in … what? Barometric pressure? Humidity? Mindset? The actual cause is immaterial, but the result is inevitable: a stirring in our souls.