In the first line of “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez refers to memories conjured up by the scent of bitter almonds. The taste of a madeleine cake causes French author Marcel Proust to remember the country home where he spent his childhood. I, however, am transported back to my early years by the smell of Puget Sound and its tide pools. It’s hard to come up with the right words to describe the odor produced by the combination of salt water, muck, kelp, and sea creatures that takes me back in time.
Yesterday we visited the beach at Carkeek Park in Seattle during the lowest tide of the month.
Every time I get a whiff of sea air, I think about growing up a few blocks from the waters of the Sound, taking long walks along the beaches of Lincoln Park, dunking in the frigid water once or twice a year — average temperature fifty degrees in summer — and collecting rocks, crabs, shells and other treasures to take home. Removing anything from the beach is now forbidden, though I expect I didn’t break any laws a few years ago when I walked away with a colorful, sand-filled glass bong I found half-buried in the mud.
The groups of children we saw wandering around the tide pools yesterday didn’t behave any differently than we did as kids. They wanted to pick up starfish, touch sea cucumbers and scream, step on squirty creatures, climb all over the slippery rocks, and feel mud oozing between their toes. However, these days volunteer “beach naturalists” are there to remind them that conservation trumps personal collections.
Why do memories of things that happened long ago come back so clearly? This week’s Brain Pickings newsletter says that, “We are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25.” Not only experiences, but scenes from movies and books, and big news events. My beach combing days happened mostly at a younger age, so I’ll credit the odor of Puget Sound for bringing back this favorite memory from my past.