Yesterday, as I stepped on the elevator in my building, I smelled the faint odor of wood chips. Suddenly, I was ten years old and in my house on suburban Long Island, watching my pet hamster run on his wheel. That quickly, a whiff of wood chips brought me back fifty years to remind me of my small furry pet.
A fascinating chain of associations can occur when an odor connects in our brain to some long-ago memory. The scent of wood chips in the air evoked the memory of holding my hamster in my hands and the sensation of his gentle nibbles at my finger tips. I remembered cleaning out his cage and putting in fresh wood chips. And I vividly recalled carrying the cute little rodent down the street to my friend's house to show him to her mother, who shrieked in fright and leaped onto her piano bench with impressive agility.
What I can't remember is the hamster's name, if he ever had one, or exactly what happened to him. I do recall that he escaped from his cage and that I searched for him high and low. I don't believe I ever found him, dead or alive. But apparently, after all these years, his memory still spins around in my brain, much as I imagine him eternally spinning his wheel in his wood-chip-scented cage in the rec room of my split level house on Long Island.