Neu Perspectives

What’s That Smell?

Does your family think you’re crazy? Mine does, I think, a little. Don’t mistake me – they are a great bunch. It’s a group of fun, loud, diverse and caring people. However, none of the folks on my side of our family live quite the lifestyle I do. Hence, when they come to visit, there are always many questions.

“Wow. How many horses do you have here?”
A lot.

“Do your dogs ever chase your chickens?”
No.

“How do you start your four-wheeler?”
Here, let me do it.

“Do the animals that you eat have names?”
Usually.

And, “What is that smell?”
To the last one, I commonly answer, “Um, you’re going to have to be more specific.”

I suppose I could just answer “Cow. Horse. Hay. Shavings.” But you all get it – it’s so much more than that. What smells like a horse stall to them, that earthy, dusty woodchip and sometimes ammonia-laced smell, reminds me of cold, early mornings at horse shows. I think of all the horse sale barn alleys I’ve walked through and all the places we’ve worked at, and when I breathe in the smell of a well-lived and freshly cleaned stall, it brings back a thousand memories.

Yep, that slightly offensive odor that stirs up with a south wind is the trace of a feedyard about 5 miles away. But to me, it’s more than holding pens of feeder cattle. It’s strong pipe fences that took 1000 hours to design, build and ground below that reflects whatever elements the weather brings. Mud. Ice. Heat. Wind. It’s a dream, a vision, sweat, endurance, risk, the reason for setting an alarm and the promise of food on the table wafting in the wind. It’s a smell that reminds me I live in the right type of place.

That acrid scent of burning hair is one of the best smells indeed. It conjures up nothing but fond feelings for most of my types of people. It’s branding season, boys, and it’s a time for friends and neighbors to get together, help each other, work the ground, rope calves and make memories together in a favorite familiar setting.

That sweet, grassy smell when you drive by the shedrow? Ahhh…alfalfa. It brings me right back to waking up on a Colorado winter morning, when I would wrap myself in Carhartt brown, wool socks and silk scarves just to go outside and chuck hay to the geldings. I would load my wagon and breathe in that fresh, clean, wonderful scent that guaranteed my horses to be fat, happy and full of energy. And then, when chores were completed, next came … coffee! (But we all know the joy that smell brings.)

And of course, there’s the horses. (The same smell usually goes hand in hand with what my clothes boast too.) That unexplainable, warm and fuzzy, grain-laced, slightly dusty essence that turns into a bit of a drug for some. It accompanies 8 out of 10 memories for me, and I’ll never shake it.

Fly spray equals summertime. Diesel means a project. The smell of DMSO [dimethyl sulfoxide] makes me wonder what’s wrong. Warm dust soaking up a rainshower is heaven. And leather – old and new – stirs up the excitement of a new pair of Rios of Mercedes boots or the magic in cleaning up an old, silver studded headstall. When I’m back in California and inhale the sage and lupine at springtime, I’m 12 years old again, bareback on a grand all-day adventure up and down the coastal hills with my caballo. Needless to say, the smells that my odd life revolves around are powerful, but so are the memories they conjure up.

Oh yes, family, and that last smell? That mouth-watering, buttery, savory grilled meat aroma that’s sitting on the grill for you, medium rare? It’s also known as a ribeye.

(And his name was Larry.)

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