We knew we were close by the smell… that bold but not-unpleasant smell of land and salty sea sliding in through open windows as we drove across miles of land bridges to our destination: Chincoteague Island, Virginia. The island is separated from the mainland mostly by miles and miles of marshland, so the land and sea meet, creating the marshy scent that evokes my favorite vacation memories.
Isn’t it amazing how quickly a smell can take you back?
Whenever I catch a whiff of that salty marsh smell, I’m immediately taken back. To memories of summers spent biking natural trails looking for herons, of piping plovers and wild ponies on the neighboring island of Assateague, of too-early mornings straggling onto the cold beach dunes searching the horizon for the first sliver of sunrise. And perhaps the fin of a dolphin.
Most people don’t realize that scent is the most powerful memory trigger. In fact, knowing how powerful this often-overlooked sense is, I encourage our children to think about and describe the way a place smells, whether we’re at the beach, in the forest, visiting a farm or zoo. It’ll help them form stronger connections to all the happy places we’ve visited.