In Search of the Best Oregon Smells

perfume-1I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve changed since I’ve moved to Oregon. Or maybe how much has changed me. Some of the changes are easy to pinpoint. I came here a young, self-involved, married almost thirty-something with way too much time on my hands and now I’m a middle thirty-something with two kids, a house, a business, more passions than I can count on both hands and interests that reach way, way beyond me.

You could say some of this transformation has been normal life stage changes. But I really do believe this PLACE has changed me, this fertile swatch reclining on the edge of the Pacific. The air is different here. The light is different. The smells are different.  I feel like living here, breathing this air and this place, has changed me at a cellular level. How long does it take for all of your cells to turn over, anyway?

I’ve been collecting ideas for some of the Pacific Northwest smells that I find so grounding and transforming and am curious as to what smells other people find uplifting, grounding, transformational, sacred, profound or energizing. These are a few of mine:

Juniper is said to gaurd from evil and ghosts, and I admire it for its ability to grow, sculpture-like, in Oregon’s high desert. It is pungent and peppery with a slightly camphorous scent.

Ponderosa pine
This is the real high desert to me — dry and warm and clear-your-nose piney with an uplifting effect. Ponderosa pine, take me away!

I just can’t get enough — sexy, woodsy, dirty, sometimes garlicky, a little musky, like when the best man in your life has been out in the woods all day.

Daphne blooms in winter and lets out a scent that extends reaches far beyond it’s delicate blossoms. I think we can all take a lesson from daphne.

Peonies, to me, are the bloom to be. Tight little balls that unfold in their fabulousness and smell just divinely floral. I think if my husband brought me roses I’d smile and put them in a vase. But if he brought me peonies? I just might take his hand and go upstairs.

Sometimes I take a bunch of dried lavender and throw it in my bathtub. It’s not a good idea. There are a lot of better ways to get the slightly astringent, relaxing backyard buzz without having to clean out your tub. But still. One of my favorites, both clean, herbal and floral.

We have often made pit stops at hops farms just to breathe in the perfume of hops. Its got dry, spicy notes and smells like the best of the ultra hoppy IPAs and has the loveliest green flowers.

Okay, maybe this one sounds like a stretch, but my friend Sam says she can smell sunshine in the forest in August. I think it might have to do with the way the plants are oxidizing and the shafts of sunlight that penetrate the forest canopy.

Fir-scented candles can’t hold a… ahem… candle to the real smell of fir in the Deschutes around Christmas time. In aromatherapy, balsam fir is known as an uplifting scent. Is it any surprise we bring trees into our homes in the darkest evenings of the year? That is, most people do, but not us. That’s another story.

These are some of the scents I’m thinking about investigating as I gather ideas for the Oregon-based perfume I’m making. What are your favorite Pacific Northwest scents?

6 thoughts on “In Search of the Best Oregon Smells

  1. Chris Hahn says:

    You hit on some of my favorites! My parents in law have a Daphne bush in their front yard, and I’m pretty sure there’s a picture somewhere of my with my face buried in it.

    Some of my favorite scents – and maybe some of these aren’t necessarily PNW:

    I love the smell of the coast, the ocean. Being only about 50 miles away from Salem, it’s not uncommon to get a push of weather from the west a couple of times a year that actually carry lungfuls of ocean air with it, and the occasional seagull if you’re lucky.

    I love the ozone-y smell after a rain. Earthy, rich.

    Sisters, Oregon – maybe this is the Ponderosa, but man, I love the way that place smells.

    Coffee. I love The Governor’s Cup Coffee Roasters and The French Press Roasters in Salem because they roast during the day, and you can get a noseful of french roast from over a mile away sometimes.

    BBQ – Clearly not just a PNW thing, but lots of great BBQ happening, and with Traeger being so close, lots of people smoking briskets and chicken year around.


  2. Ivan says:

    There isn’t a specific smell I could put my finger on but Oregon just smells different from other places i know. I always get my first sniff on the jetway between the plane and airport. I think it is fir based. It is just fresh and tree like. I can smell it just about everywhere around Portland. It is one of my favorite things about Oregon.


  3. Emily Grosvenor says:

    It’s the most fragrant place I’ve ever lived. I know that feeling of coming in — flying past Mt. Hood, driving and catching the tops of the trees while on the freeway. The air is somehow welcoming. Also, the women and men seem very well preserved here b/c of the grey skies 🙂


  4. dinnersforwinners says:

    Oregon smells very green and open to me. Newness, freshness. I can tell immediately as soon as I step outside the airport doors whenever I’ve been traveling. Juniper especially speaks to me… And not just because I love gin 🙂


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