I Smell A Rat


We don’t realize how sacred our environment is until we lose a key component of it due to a force of nature beyond our control.  There is a natural progression that is considered by many humans to be revolting, even though it’s one of the most essential processes in the world.

I am talking about decomposition.

I had lofty ambitions to write today about something that mattered, something profound and writerly.   One of the oldest, most cherished piece of writing advice that teachers implore to their students is to “Write what you know.”  I will abide by that dictum and profundity shall be damned!

I’d like to back up to a time that I enjoyed; a time that smelled a hell of a lot better than it does now.  This was the year I worked as the office manager at C.O.B.H.A., the College of Botanical Healing Arts in Santa Cruz, California. (http://www.cobha.org/) C.O.B.H.A.’s website declares it as “a unique, innovative, high quality educational institution and aromatherapy college providing training that focuses on the power of healing through the use of essential oils, herbs, and nutrition. We are dedicated to providing excellent comprehensive education in a balanced curriculum of science, holistic healing theories, and practical clinical experience.”  

Before I began work at C.O.B.H.A., I had always loved essential oils such as lavender and orange.  I read about their key general properties, i.e. lavender was used as a calming agent, while orange was more of an uplifting fragrance.  I had no idea of the myriad of essential oils that exist and their amazing clinical use until I attended C.O.B.H.A.  I was fortunate to take the Level One Foundation class, taught by the renowned school founder/author Elizabeth Jones.  Level One was the gateway to the rigorous 440-hour-long essential oil practitioner certification program.  As soon as I walked in the entrance door, I loved the smell of the small school.  There was an essential oil diffuser in my office which I used to disperse my favorite oil combination of lavender and orange.  I noticed I was more mellow and happier when my work environment smelled good.  I was more productive as well.   In the Level One class I took I learned how high quality essential oils worked to actually cross the blood/brain barrier and they affected the body in a variety of impressive ways.  The field of essential oils was not just a hippie-dippie, feel-good arena; the essential oils were used in the medical establishment and hospice work.   

I was most drawn to how essential oils affected mood.  (Of course!)  My job at C.O.B.H.A. occurred long before I was diagnosed with bipolar, but I was suffering with clinical depression.  If I could only choose one oil for my mood benefits, it would be orange – especially blood orange.  Just one sniff and I could literally feel it helping me, I kid you not.  Regular orange oil (preferably a G.C.M.S.-tested oil, which is the mouthful gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, a sophisticated lab test that helps verify that the constituents contained in an essential oil are representative of what that particular oil should contain.) is very affordable, and it’s one of the best oils available to help alleviate depression.

I find myself yearning for my C.O.B.H.A. days in particular during the past twenty-four hours. 

For several weeks now, I have smelled an unpleasant, sickly-sweet odor in our kitchen.   The smell worsened as the days flew by, and my heart sank when I realized it was the odor of death.  I felt perplexed, however, as I couldn’t spot any deceased critter in any crevice, and neither could my husband.   Over the last week it became obvious the smell centered around our dishwasher.   The dishwasher, which had been on its last legs for a long time, broke yesterday.   It was a decrepit washer that was here when we moved in ages ago, and I knew that it was not worth repairing.   It was time to buy another dishwasher and make our almost-maxed-out Sears credit card squeal.

My husband was appointed to take on the dishwasher project.  He drove off to Sears and bought one on sale (Hallelujah!) before visiting some of his project sites.  When he returned after a full day of work, he decided to remove our old washer.  I wisely escaped downstairs to his office for some writing time.  When I returned upstairs to be with the family, the entire area smelled abhorrent.  When my husband took out the “dead” washer, he also found a very, very dead rat.  The sight and smell of that grisly scene were so atrocious that he ran out of the house to relieve his stomach contents. (Poor guy.  I have allotted him MAJOR bonus points for this duty.)  Thank God our two girls were totally distracted with a show in the other room, and they didn’t notice the rodential goings-on.  (For you writers out there, I created the word “rodential”.)  While he did his absolute best in disinfecting the area, and windows were wide open, it still smelled rank beyond what any author could possibly describe in words, and I completely lost my appetite.  (My rejecting food is almost unheard of, as some of you know!)

I now feel a special connection to the famous statement made by Founding Father Patrick Henry, who declined to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787, saying that he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.”  This colorful phrase can be construed in different ways, but after yesterday I interpret it literally – I believe Henry could not have “smelt” anything much worse than a (decomposing) rat, and I salute him for his evocative choice in words.  

I look forward to when the air that I breathe in my home is not tinged with eau de rat decompose.  It really does make a tremendous difference in our psyche, our productivity and our appetite to have fresh air to breathe.  At least our house is surrounded by a redwood grove and the trees will assist in naturally purifying the air over time.  So today when you are stuck in traffic, or stub your toe, or experience one of the many small grievances that are a part of life, be extra-thankful for the whiff you get of that lovely flower, that tree, or that briny ocean.  Be glad your home is free of decomposing rats!   Trust me, I know you are glad already if you’ve read this far.