One of my favorite pieces. Certain smells always remind me of my second home, but this experience was especially vivid.


Running to Poland

We’re running in Madison, NJ, population 16,000, on a half-mile long gravel loop, one that has likely been used for thousands of human-miles. The morning August air is warm, and we suck it into our lungs and it is satisfying. We round a bend halfway around the central plain, and the dry, musky smell of mulch and yellowed grass suddenly surrounds us like an invisible cloud. We run towards the end to begin another lap near a forested area. We slow to a trot, and then a walk, as dense shrubbery appears on one side.

As I pass the green outcropping of vegetation, I enter its own invisible cloud. This time the smell is rich, earthy, and alive. The moist leaves provide the melody and the decomposing soil provides a complementing harmony. I inhale the unique scent as I move past the greenery.

And now I am moving far past it, far past Madison, NJ, far over the ocean, to the agrarian outskirts of a town on a different continent. I am there, walking down the wide central grassy path of the “dzialki”, or private plots of land. They extend out in a checkerboard of gardens on either side of the path. I find my grandmother’s plot. The gate is unlocked. I see her working, and myself besides her, picking wax beans. The miniature cottage is open, and the compost heap is to its right, producing an aromatic undertone of decomposition. The planted flowers add their own light songs, and the grass and apple tree complement everything beautifully.

​I leave suddenly and without saying goodbye when we pass the shrubbery and start another lap.