Nick Paumgarten knows why New York smells like maple syrup

I often stroll the windy canyons of Park Avenue with scarf tight, hands jammed in pockets, and winter cap secure, leaving only my nose exposed to the New York air. This, naturally, leads me to dwell upon the scents I encounter during my flâneur, and, of late, I have noticed a preponderance of maple in the air. After some measure of investigation with my contacts within the New York Public Library and City Hall, I was unable to make any headway; it appeared I’d have to take it upon myself to solve this riddle, which at this point was keeping me up long nights, to the endless chagrin of my wife.

One evening after supper, I pulled on a battered pair of Asics and headed off to the Reservoir for a quick jog to clear my mind. After two loops, I decided to take off on a new path through the woods, having tried and failed to put some distance between myself and the sixtysomething in yellow Lycra who always seems to be running precisely when I am, and at the same speed, too. I took off into the depths of the greenery and after just a few minutes found myself in a clearing of uncommon aura. The air seemed subtly heavier, the grass strangely springier, than normal. And the maple smell, heretofore an olfactory undercurrent, permeated the clearing, hanging as heavily as if a fog of condensed maple syrup had rolled in and taken up residence.

At this point evening had given way to night, and the waxing moon shone through the clearing to reveal a circle of robed and hooded figures across the way. They seemed to be encircling a large, black cauldron, from which rose a thick plume of smoke, glistening grey in the moonlight. I broke off my jog, approaching the group carefully, curiously. As I neared the enigmatic assemblage, I heard a twig snap under my cross-trainers, and felt for an instant some measure of sympathy for Fenimore Cooper in the face of Twain’s withering criticisms — indeed, dry twigs do appear underfoot at the most inopportune moments! Seven heads in seven hoods turned toward me as the cauldron hissed. The tallest was the leader, and he spoke for the group.
–Nothing happening here, gentle sir. Be on your way.

And I’m not ashamed to say that’s just what I did. So long, minions of Jemima! But the trip was nothing if not successful. I had finally found the source of the vexing smell, and I returned home eager to share with the world my discovery, and seek another mystery to conquer. I find myself compelled by the thrill of the hunt, the rapture of the Eureka moment. This space will now read as a mystery serial of sorts, chronicling episodes of my newfound vocation. Wish me luck.

(Actual post here)

And this is weird, but here‘s an article Nick Paumgarten wrote in November of 2005 on the very same subject.

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