Let me take you on a summer ride in the countryside. Imagine traveling down narrow roads that roll up and down green hills and snake along blind and winding turns.
Picture passing cow pastures, corn and soybean fields, majestic horse farms and sweeping thickets of old, deciduous forest.
Maybe you occasionally have to wait behind a slow farm tractor until you can pass. Maybe you get to cross a narrow bridge over a small river or creek. Maybe you are lucky enough to pass a newly cut hay field and the smell of that lovely, green freshness swirls around you.
Welcome to the southeastern Pennsylvania of my youth, the magical place filled with hours long make-believe playing in large backyards, expeditions through the woods, catching salamanders and lightning bugs, racing bicycles, playing hide-and-seek in corn rows, wading in creeks and listening to the soft evening symphony of crickets.
Magical, right? Now let me dump on you a bucket of reality. Imagine it’s 90 degrees with 99 percent humidity and some adult is yelling at “you kids” to leave the cool air of the basement in your un-air-conditioned house to go outside to “play”. As you come upstairs you already start to sweat and clothes stick to your skin like disagreeable plastic wrap. Then you march reluctantly outside into the blinding sun where you feel like you just walked into an oven, a wet oven. The air is so still and unyielding that you swear you can hear even the birds praying for some kind of breeze. As you sit in the grass under the shade of a tree with your friends or siblings or whoever and you start to feel less miserably hot, you notice another sensation that is hardly noteworthy because it is always there. But today, with the heat and the humidity, it is just too hard to ignore. It is the not-so-sweet smell of manure. Yes, the fermenting, decomposing excrement from another animal. To say it has a “barnyardy” smell is a just a term used in polite company.
This is not just any manure either. This is the smell of manure with a purpose and on this particular day, like many others, in these particular conditions, as is common, the smell of manure wafts, floats, rises into the atmosphere drifting on the invisible cloud of humidity, permeating every corner of every little valley, gully, copse and dell in the area, baking its way to new aromatic heights in the heat of the sun.
(The road near my house, adorned with a mushroom house on the left.)
Welcome to the southeastern Pennsylvania of my youth (and today), the magical place, I failed to mention previously, where un-magical mushrooms are grown in unsightly cement houses of manure dotting the countryside from here to Kennett Square, known by many as the Mushroom Capital of the World.
(Another mushroom house on a road nearby.)
(Downtown Kennett Square – The Mushroom Capital of the World.)
Alas, before you begin to gag and have pity, hear me out – one summer day when I was visiting from Northern California, my brother was driving me from the airport in Philadelphia, towards my childhood home.
Even before we exited the highway and down the country roads towards that place that had once seemed so magical, the potent perfume of manure filled our nostrils. My brother turned to me and, after a deep breath through his nose, said, “Ahhh… Welcome home!” He was more right then he knew. Perhaps there is nothing more powerful than a strong and, lets call it, unique odor to bring the magical memories of childhood back from the locked confines of your adult brain.
Its more than just memories, its a physical reaction (and with the smell of manure, how could there not be a physical reaction?) where you reintroduce yourself to those childhood sensations of happiness, safety, freedom, friendships, play, mystery, imagination and, of course, magic. It all made me smile, reminding me not only of who I once was, but of who I still am, but had forgotten. I turned to my brother and said, “It’s good to be home!” and he knew exactly what I meant. That’s the power of manure.
(Home Sweet-Smelling Home)
Original Post from my blog: http://yourstorian.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/stories-power-of-manure/
I love this story so much! I too lived close to many pastures of ripe manure! The kids would hold their noses as we passed day after day, they said Mom you can't smell it if you hold your nose and breath through your mouth! They were right! There is nothing like fresh horse manure to help a garden grow or cow manure. I loved every minute of being near the farms and fresh organic crops.
I could feel your sweat and the almost non air that needed to be breathed in to walk quickly to the shade of the tree. We didn't have A/C and begged for that breeze you spoke of too.
Thank you for sharing and the photos are wonderful too.
My experience was somewhat different, having to clean the corrals and calf pens as I was growing up. However, one of the memories I have that the smell of manure brought back to me as I read your wonderful description, was the thrill of riding the calves out of the barn so it would be empty enough to fork the gooey, putrid green stuff out of the barn window into the corral where it could be accessed by the tractor to be hauled away. Thanks for bringing that memory back to my mind! I can only image what humidity would do to the stench, because living in the "desert" of Utah we experience the heat without the humidity. Whew! The trouble was that if I was running late with chores and milking the cows before the bus came, I carried the smell of manure with me throughout the school day
I love this story - it reminds me of the smell that lingered around my last place of employment, which was near a processing plant for raw sewage and/or deceased animal remains. Another necessary process most of us wish we couldn't smell.