The Nature of Things

Smells Like Home

Or maybe it’s more of a feeling


By Ashley Wahl

Back in July, while our good friends were visiting family in Vermont, we opened our home and hearts to Tibbs, their adorably puckish boxer mix.

After not having seen him for nine days, the first thing Ellen did when Tibbs jumped in her car was press her face into his soft black fur and inhale.

“Awww,” she said, “he smells just like your house.”

I’m guessing she meant that he smelled like our favorite incense, the hand-rolled sticks of frankincense and honey that we light each dawn. But I wondered. What does our house actually smell like?

If we make it to the Greensboro Farmers Curb Market on Saturday morning before Shirley Broome sells out of flowers, then a rustic bouquet in the den enlivens our home with intoxicating sweetness.

Did we harvest fresh herbs this morning? Perhaps you smell the peppery warmth of basil. The crisp earthiness of rosemary. The minty coolness of garden sage, which the neighbor snips from our yellow planter for her pasta nights.

In the evenings, when we make chai on the stovetop, an amalgam of spices wafts from the kitchen — cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves — as music drifts through the wireless speakers.

Home is a sensory experience.

I think of takeout dinners with my sweetheart and how, although we love our dining table (a small drop leaf that belonged to my Mimi), we’d rather eat samosas on the living room floor. I spread out a picnic blanket over the blue boho rug. Alan lights tea candles. Flames flicker behind gold-speckled glass as we break warm naan.

Years ago, before Alan and I started dating, I decided to rid my life of unnecessarily dense furniture or belongings. Anything that might weigh me down, physically or emotionally, had to go. Thankfully Alan shares my “room to breathe” aesthetic, so if a friend or relative offers a well-built or heirloom piece of furniture, we only proceed with utmost caution.

Earlier this year, when a friend was downsizing, she ached at the thought of parting with her grandma Claire’s antique pedestal table. But she didn’t have space. Did we want it?

I loved the ornate wooden inlay, and the story of how, when Nana Claire damaged the surface by watering a plant, she cut a hole in the center of the table and mended it with fabric from a pair of leather pants. (She could also spot a four-leaf clover any time she walked into a field, which felt like good juju.) I did some measuring. The table fits as if it’s always been here.

When Tibbs was with us, we were amazed by how naturally “at home” he seemed. Never bothered, never wanting. Just sprawled out and belly-up at any given moment.

It took Durga, our own rescue queen, months to fully settle in. Then again, when we take her out to a quiet woodland trail — some natural oasis where she’s free to run off leash yet always stays close — we witness a soul in complete and absolute harmony with us, her surroundings and herself.

Now that’s what it’s like to be home, I think to myself. Or at least that’s how it should be.

On a recent late summer night, we powered down the TV to listen to a passing storm, drawing back the curtains to watch lightning animate a purple sky. Durga, who isn’t exactly a lap dog, twisted herself into a pretzel knot between us.

Rain pelted the windows. Thunder rattled the house. Shadows flickered across the moss green walls.

Resting my head on Alan’s shoulder, I closed my eyes and inhaled. 

“Mmmm,” I chimed. “You smell just like home.”

At this, the sleepy dog lifted her head, wet nose gently flaring as if in agreement.  OH

Contact editor Ashley Wahl at

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