One day in late or even mid-August, some of us begin to notice that fall is in the air. Usually it is a tactile sense — a different angle of the sun, a warm, not hot breeze. It might be the sound of loosely hanging leaves, still green, rustling on trees. It could be 80 degrees, but even if I am sweating , digging, weeding, or walking. I know that fall is coming.

We tend to depend on our most commonly used five senses of sight, hearing, smell, feel and taste, but I am thinking that maybe that “feel of fall in the air” might be an awareness through one of our less developed senses: Airborne ionic charges, ferromagnetic orientation, pheromonic sensing.

Later in September or October, we humans no longer need to depend on our undeveloped senses to know that fall has arrived. We can see it. The sun is at a lower angle and the sky is a brighter blue. Perhaps the leaves on some trees have turned the jeweled reds and purples of autumn. Maybe a yellow leaf here or there twirls slowly to the ground. Or maybe a butterfly is slowly sinking, sitting for too long in one spot. Maybe a lone goose is honking somewhere far aloft.

Through our sense of sight we know fall easily. Occasionally we notice fall sounds: falling leaves, migrating birds. Notably, at my house there will be constant sneezing. The air feels different. We shift our menus to cook and eat what is more traditionally available in the fall.

I never thought of fall in terms of smells, like winter is associated with pine and wood smoke and oranges, and snow, and spring is grass and rain and blossoming flowers; and summer is heat, boxwood, and jasmine.

But I wandered into a couple of candle shops recently and was bombarded by the newest “fall,” aromas in candles and lotions. Fall is my favorite time of year. Did I say that last spring? Fall is my favorite time of year. But I was not drawn to these stores’ fall aromas.

I am sure these huge companies have spent millions on research to determine which fall smells will sell, but I was not consulted.

When I walked into the store, I was overwhelmed with the odors of burnt sugar, pumpkin spice, spice cake, cinnamon, apple honey, whipped vanilla marshmallow, pumpkin pecan waffles and blueberry maple pancakes. I mean who wants candles or lotions that smell like breakfast or dessert? With all of these food and sugary smells, in your house and on your person, as my mother might say, “You gonna draw a swarm of flies.” These are kitchen smells, not fall smells.

In the fall I will pull up the tomato vines, in the past maybe okra or drying cornstalks, and there is a distinct smell. It might be called garden debris, or compost, but it is not totally unpleasant. I will collect seeds and pull up the beebalm and the herby smell of the leaves will surround me. I might dig in some bulbs and the smell of the earth is different in fall than in spring…more dead matter? In the fall there are rotting apples and pears on the ground. We might put out chrysanthemums in the fall, a tangy wonderful smell, but maybe a little bitter?

On my patio I will cut back and maybe pull up the geraniums. Clean up and cut back the herbs that have gotten leggy. Maybe I will decide to bring the thyme in the house, but I know the rosemary and the sage that I cut back will survive jammed against the brick wall. These are fall smells.

We need to help these candlesmakers out. I might suggest sawn branches, pruned limbs, garden debris, brown leaves, fresh chrysanthemum, new textbooks, new pencils, new school clothes — corduroy especially. We must broaden our sense of smell beyond food. Well, I think we should, so that we have more choices in the candle/lotion stores.

Just like I don’t want to slather my body with watermelon or strawberry in the summer, I don’t want to smell like pumpkin and cider in the fall. Or cranberries, or hot chocolate or even vanilla.

Give me rose or violet or lavender or rosemary or mint any day.

I guess the grandma in me is coming through.

Cheryl Hilderbrand is a Jackson writer and educator. Email her at