OPINION | TED TALLEY: Aromas — some natural, some concocted — can take us back in time

Scents, manufactured or natural, trigger a response

There's a spot on Northwest A Street in Bentonville where the road dips down into the bike trails and woods halfway between the Bentonville Square and my neighborhood, to the north. Descending to the intersection at Tiger Boulevard, I'm momentarily taken away and reminded that even with all the urban growth and towering construction cranes in Bentonville, there are towering trees as well. This is still the Ozarks.

It's a special treat to experience that spot when I have the top down on my father's old, blue Ford convertible. The summer heat is abated by several degrees as the trees surround the car between Park Springs to the west and Crystal Spring to the east. There's an unmistakable organic smell of forest floor near flowing water, in creek beds and hollows behind homes, making its way north among the bike trails to McKisic Creek. Moments later I'm atop the next hill as the street runs behind Lincoln Junior High School and along residential development called, appropriately enough, Hidden Springs. However brief, the cool respite is appreciated.

Memories are often attached to unique smells and fragrances. Some are pleasant aromas while others might be considered odors because they're, well, quite odious. On the pleasant side, an industry has arisen: Purveyors and consultants can build a specific scent identity -- an olfactory logo -- for your business. No longer is mood-enhancing Muzak flowing from overhead speakers into customers' ears sufficient. Now you must enter their noses.

"Stay focused on what your customers should feel when they enter into your business environment with the expert advice of your fragrance partner," suggests a business called Coralaroma on its website. There are several other companies plying this trade.

The Rafael, a historic boutique hotel overlooking Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, has a distinct smell you will notice in the lobby and hallways. It is memorable and supportive of an upscale experience in a certain je ne sais quoi (I don't know what) manner wafting about. My mistake was inquiring at the desk to find the name of the not-so-sweet, slightly woody smell that I might actually enjoy in my home. It was rather like pulling back the curtain to see the wizard's control board. The clerk jotted down a name and handed me a note as he said "I don't know what it's called (essentially je ne sais quoi) but we get it from this company." The company, Scent Air, promises to "engage customers with scent marketing." I was engaged. And in subsequent visits to either stay or dine at the hotel, I looked forward to the same scent even if the experience is a manipulation by a glorified janitorial supply company.

By wonderful happenstance the authentic river forest scent I experienced most recently in Bentonville was over Labor Day weekend. That earthiness reminds me of July Fourth and Labor Day picnics of my youth. My mother would pack the wicker picnic basket and fill the Coleman cooler with homemade lemonade. My father would toss everything, including blankets and my sisters and me, into the back of his 1956 blue F-100 Ford pickup and we'd head down the trail of packed river bottom sand toward the water. And that distinct, cool and humid odor of trees and wild water filled our nostrils with anticipatory glee.

Perhaps we didn't appreciate the good fortune of having our expansive swimming hole with gravel and sand beaches on the Bogue Chitto River, a waterway now officially designated as a Louisiana Natural and Scenic River. Today city dwellers flock there in kayaks. The Talley homestead, settled by my great-grandfather, held a quarter-mile stretch of riverbank. We lived in his farmhouse beyond the trees and up the hill.

Sometimes the picnics included relatives, friends and fellow church members. Daddy stretched our feed store delivery truck tarps between tree trunks providing changing rooms for the church ladies. The deacons made-do behind open car doors.

Longtime family friend Mr. Drinkard, who ironically worked for a soft-drink bottler, iced down bottles of Seven-Up, root beer and Delaware Punch in his long green tub atop sawhorses. Watermelons chilled in the river and we children hunted for shiny fresh water mussel shells in the shallows and dug up turtle eggs to recover them in the sandy bluff around the bend.

Decades later, I don't need an odor consultant as I descend into that certain spot on Northwest A Street with the top down or windows wide open. The memories flash around me naturally and unaided. I take a deep breath and thank God for Monday holidays.