What does green smell like?

I was looking through old photos recently, from a trip to Greece than including hiking in Crete. It brought to mind a very vivid memory of a particular moment: when I learned what the colour green smells like.

Wall painting in Knossos, Crete

First, a little context. The Cretan portion of the trip was booked to fill in a gap between visiting Athens and going to Santorini (or Thera/Fira), an island that has looked large in my imagination ever since reading about it and its links to the legendary Minoan civilization and the myths of Atlantis. I picked Crete as the filler mostly because it was home to Sir Arthur Evan’s rebuilding…or re-imagination of Knossos (depending on who you talk to).

In the end, it was that portion I enjoyed more that any other part of my trip – Crete, Chania and the hikes outside of the cities. Oh, Omalos and the Samaria Gorge! I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting, active vacation, by the way.

However, this isn’t a post on that trip in general (maybe I’ll get around to that someday). It’s about that one moment in particular.

The malleability of sense

There are many ways we describe a particular colour, but usually it’s visual. I’m glad English has different words for green and blue (unlike some languages) – it lets me use both peacock green and peacock blue, and mean different shades (as an aside check out this post on iridescence with includes mention of a green beetle dress).

But have you ever felt that the stimuli of one sense is better expressed with words of another? A sight described with words of sound? Or a taste as a colour? Or a colour as a scent?

It’s not quite synesthesia, a phenomenon where stimulation of one sense is experienced as another. But, as a writer, I find this interesting. I find that I do describe things with words that don’t necessarily apply to the sense being used to perceive them. For example, if you describe a smell as viscous – thick, filling up the nasal passages so you can’t breath. Okay, I’ve never described a scent as viscous, but I might have described an overcast sky as soft like kitten’s belly.

But what does that have to do with a hiking trip in Crete?

The scent of green

It’s that moment I mentioned above. The moment I knew, in an instant, what green smelled like. At least to me.

I was in the back of a van travelling somewhere on the south side of Crete. It was a sunny day, the rays beating down on the scrubby landscape. The windows of the van were open, letting a breeze passed through.

It carried with it the aroma of sun-baked wild oregano and rosemary, resinous and sharp.

So what’s the point?

As a writer, it’s useful to be able to call on these terms associated with other scents, or even emotions, to describe things. Again, thinking back to that trip, I don’t know that I could describe the colour of the Libyan sea in terms of colour. Heck, I’m not sure I can describe it period – it’s like a melancholic sound, a deep, softly sad blue. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, and none of the photos I took really do it justice.

What about you? What does green smell like to you? Or do you have other sensory experiences that you describe in terms not associated with the sense you use to experience them?

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