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COUNTY AGENT GUY

By Staff | Jan 14, 2011

Weather permitting our dog, Sandy, and I take a walk almost every day. His job is to run ahead and scout for strange scents while mine is to tag along behind and superintend.

One might not think there would be anything for the dog to sniff out at this time of the year when the snow is deep and the countryside seems as lifeless as the far side of the moon.

But Sandy invariably catches scent of something interesting to dig for in the drifts and often emerges from his snowy excavations with a field mouse. So much for the mouse’s best-laid plans for the winter!

No rodent redolence ever reaches my olfactory orifice, so Sandy’s scent-ability is obviously far superior to mine. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy all things fragrant during our perambulations.

In the early spring, the breeze carries the aroma of warming soil as the land awakens from its long wintertide hibernation. Down in the lowland, the earthy essence of rotting marsh weeds wafts upwards as redwing blackbirds warble from their perches on a nearby power line.

It’s soon planting time and the wondrous perfume of freshly turned dirt fills the air. Manure is also being hauled and spread upon the land, nature’s pungent fertilizer and soil rejuvenator.

I don’t mean to brag, but being a true country boy I can easily discern – blindfolded! – whether a specific manure had been produced by hogs or cattle or chickens. Not that there’s a lot of demand for that particular skill.

Before you know it haying season will have arrived. There’s nothing that says summer like the heavenly aroma of fresh-cut hay curing beneath the glories of the warm June sun.

But cutting hay seems to all but guarantee that rain clouds will begin to boil up on the horizon. As the atmosphere heats it cooks water vapor, causing colossal chunks of popcorn to appear in the ether.

These clouds can quickly mushroom into soaring thunderheads that nearly reach low earth orbit.

A summer thunderstorm surfs in on a glowering, blue-black scud cloud. The passing of the scud is heralded by a sudden shift in the wind and a sharp drop in temperature. These ethereal forerunners murmur the news that rain is on its way.

Thunder roars and pitchforks of lightning drop to the earth as the storm roils overhead. The cool, sweet scent of rain soon fills the nostrils, bringing with it whispered promises of a lush growing season.

The heat of late June and early July are soon upon us. The dog begins to disappear during his forays into the corn field; the corn plants are now growing as fast as Fourth of July skyrockets.

It’s been said that on hot summer nights you can hear the corn grow. My auditory abilities have never been sensitive enough to detect this, but the aroma of rapidly growing corn is unmistakable. Its syrupy perfume hints at the astronomical amounts of sunlight that are being converted into plant sugars.

Summer brings the piquant aura of freshly harvested wheat fields crackling under a blinding midday sun. The aroma of new straw reminds one of hot, itchy, sweaty afternoons spent stacking bales in a stifling hayloft.

Autumn slips in like a thief. During our walks, I begin to detect the sharp tang of mature smartweed wafting up from the lowlands. The ripening corn and soybeans each add their own particular incense to the olfactory palette.

In the cool of a still autumnal evening, the musty aroma of mushrooms and rotting wood might drift out of our shelter belt. The combined fragrances of ripening grain and old wood reminds me how corn and oak can work together to form that pleasing product known as bourbon.

As Sandy races down the rows of ripe corn – furiously charging after a wily pheasant – the brittle bronze stalks rattle mightily, as if an elephant were dashing headlong through the field. Stealth is not the dog’s strong suit at this time of the year.

The days shorten and winter arrives, locking away my scent landscape underneath an icy white shroud. The only smell that reaches my nostrils during our walks is the tangy smoke from a neighbor’s woodstove. For some reason, I find this aroma deeply comforting.

Back in the house, I often opt to create my own smellscape by baking a loaf of homemade bread. Very few things are better than the luxurious fragrance of bread coming out of a hot oven on a cold day. Warm bread and hot coffee can infinitely improve even the coldest and gloomiest winter day.

So I’ll melt some butter on my bread and perhaps toss a chunk to Sandy and together we’ll daydream about catching that first whiff of spring.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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