Street sweeping is underway in Minneapolis, so don’t forget to push all your leaves into the gutters.
Kidding! That would be wrong. You wish the city would bring by a longer hose and clean your boulevard as long as it’s in the neighborhood and picking up leaves. But that would deny you the opportunity to do two important seasonal things:
• Put all the leaves in a bag, as if the trees were your dogs.
• Lament the bygone scent of burning leaves, which harks back to a simpler time when the night air was fragrant, there were only three TV channels, America was respected at home and abroad and nobody gave a dang about people with asthma.
Because I never had my lungs shut down when the neighbors burned leaves, I regret the loss of the autumnal perfume. The other night we had a neighborhood bonfire, and afterward my coat had that smoky scent of incinerated cellulose. It reminds you of being Up North, roasting wienies on a stick. Oh, you could microwave a hot dog until it burst and dribble the juice on your coat for the full effect, but it’s not the same.
It’s a scent the seasonal candles never manage to capture — either it’s so ineffable the best chemists cannot duplicate its bittersweet bouquet, or they’re just lazy. As you may have noticed, the stores have rolled out the candles for the holiday season, and they’re the same as last year — with different names.
Pine. This is much stronger than any tree; if pines had mating seasons, this would be the pheromone they exude to tell other pines they are in the mood — although fat lot of good it would do them, given their sturdy root structures.
This year it’s called Trim the Tree. Last year it was All Fir One, One Fir All.
Cloying Sweetness. This one is supposed to conjure up the memories of cookies past, when you helped Mom make cookies for Santa, and sneaked some raw dough and spent Christmas in the ER with salmonella. It smells like you inhaled two inches of cinnamon stick in a room where someone burned a 5-pound sack of sugar.
This year’s name: Oven Memories. Last year: Baked Love Thoughts.
Cranberries. This is the red candle, right? Fake pine is green, fake cookie is brown, and the red one we understand is cranberry-scented. Except no one really knows what cranberries smell like. No one ever walks into a house, sniffs, and says, “Your cran factor is off the charts, my friend.” Yet we pick up the red candle and assume that it’s cranberries. Let’s be honest: It’s just Default Seasonal Scent #3.
There is no fourth scent.
Sure, some stores have “Winter” as a scent: top note of singed birch, undertones of dust and sloughed-off epidermal cells roasting on the radiator pipes. But, c’mon, winter has no smell. I’m sure dogs pick up lots of scents, from squirrel droppings to mailman’s tears, but for human noses, winter is like a TV set at 3 a.m. in 1968. Which is why burning leaves made such an impression — it was like the last days of the year, the world itself, was being consumed and released. We need that again. It could be the fourth scent.
Or they could come up with “Arizona Airport.” That’s a nice winter seasonal scent, too.