Scent Memory; No 1 | Rosemary

Rosemary bush close up

As part of our blog series, we will be exploring the role scent plays in our life. This post delves into the relationship between scent and memories in a very personal way, since the two are powerfully linked. We hope you enjoy, and we look forward to sharing more scent memories with you in the coming months.

I was four years old, running down the steps of The Pridwin in Shelter Island, New York. The bay was right in front of me – only a small strip of asphalt barely wide enough to be called a road separated me from the water. I waited at bottom stair for my parents to catch up to my small but mighty legs.

As I stood there, I was first enveloped by the sound that will forever remind me of Shelter Island. It was not salty sea air or sunscreen mixed with sweat. No, it was the smell from the two bushes on either side of me; my tender plant guardians as I waited for my human ones to accompany me across the street. It was the scent of rosemary.

Scent is an incredible thing. Just a whiff is enough to bring back what is long forgotten: the vanilla body spray from middle school dances, the fabric softener your first love used, the greasy take out your father would bring home as a Friday night treat. Suddenly, we are transported back in time and are reminded of how we felt in those moments: excitement, hope, love.

Shelter Island was my happy place. My family and I would spend a week there every summer from the time I was born until I was ten, an escape from the city life into which the three of us had been born. It is where I learned to fish and snorkel. Where I momentarily forgot about the bullies from my elementary school. Where I made lifelong friends. It has been over a decade since I last took the ferry onto its shores, a quiet little island nestled between the two forks of Montauk, but I can still remember every inch of the cabin we rented. I can still tell you what the early morning tennis lessons sounded like or how it felt the first time I got stung by a jellyfish (this would later become an annual occurrence).

Most of all, I remember the smell of the rosemary bushes.

I don’t think I need to re-state the state of the world right now. We all know what is going on, and how it is affecting each and every one of us. Some mornings I wake up and want nothing more than to go back to sleep (and I often do). Other times, I spend hours day dreaming, wishing for my old life back or a better one to soon emerge in the future.

One of the moments of sanity I get are during my walks around Beverly Hills. The quiet, tree lined streets give me a momentary sense of sanity. When I first started my walks, I changed up the route each time. I wove up and down different roads, admiring the beautiful mansions I had only ever seen on television, until a familiar scent stopped me in my tracks. Rosemary. I was instantly brought back to my childhood summers on Shelter Island. Back to a time when the world seemed to make sense. Back to a time when I felt safe.

And, for a moment, I felt that way again.

Do you have a scent memory that you often find yourself thinking of? Is there a way that you incorporate that scent into your self-care rituals?


Author: Kimberly McBride for Ourside