By Chuck Woodbury
I smell cows. It’s a gorgeous day in Medford, Oregon. I’m typing at my picnic table. The sun is warming me all over. I am happiest when the sun shines.
It’s been raining way too much lately and so Gail and I are heading south, joining the snowbird migration —the thousands upon thousands of other RVers — half I believe from Minnesota. I think Minnesota pretty much empties each winter, at least the old people like me who have homes with wheels, and gas money.
Smell is vastly underrated as a travel experience. We mostly talk about how places look. Sometimes we mention how they sound, like in a big city where there are horns honking or in the desert where there is no sound at all (very nice!). But people hardly ever talk about smell. I know right now, if I take a sniff and I smell cows, then I know even without looking out my window that I am not home. There isn’t a cow within five miles of me at home. There, I would smell the ocean.
Oops! I forget there for a minute that I now live in an RV and home is where I am at any particular time. So I can’t say “back home” anymore. It’s going to take awhile to get used to that.
BUT BACK TO THE SUBJECT OF SMELL. When you travel down the great Central Valley of California, you can close your eyes and there is no doubt you are in an agricultural area. You can tell how far you are from the next stockyard or dairy by the smell of the cows. You can be just driving along and then someone in your car or RV says, “Cows ahead!” And then you just wait to spot the stockyard or dairy. On the other hand, when you are driving through the country, where the cows are in pastures, it’s different. You don’t smell the cows. There’s too much space between poop.
Once near Florence, Arizona, I passed a stockyard that extended as far as I could see. It was like 200 football fields all put together, maybe more. What struck me were the half-dozen tract homes right up against the stockyard. I mean, right over the back fence, there were cows and giant stacks of muddy, stinky cow manure. I was too far away to see flies, but I bet they were thick. What a great place to be a fly! I wondered how anyone could live there. Then, as I thought more about it, I figured that the residents were so accustomed to the smell that they didn’t even notice it anymore. Otherwise, how could they stand it? If I had to spend a night in one of those houses I bet I would dream about cows, assuming I could even sleep.