One evening my housemate Susan baked a wonderful onion-and-potato dish, and as I walked through the kitchen I said, “Oh, my, that smells so good!” The next morning the cooking aromas were present still, and I didn’t think much about it, but the next morning…. What? How odd to have that smell hanging on. I tried putting some aromatic oil in the diffuser, but it made no difference. After a week I had figured out that this odor was not real; it was somehow generated by my own nose sending wrong information to my mind. When I researched the phenomenon online I found phantosmia, sometimes called an olfactory hallucination.
They say it can happen after a respiratory infection. I had recently (mostly) gotten over a cold and the flu. I was smelling a sort of burning-leaf scent. That’s the only thing I could think of to describe it, not that I am terribly familiar with that smell around here – but I was trying to come up with an imagination to match the fake sensation. It was there when I went to sleep, when I woke up, all day long, and when I drove to the next town for an appointment. I could taste my food, sort of, but the weird smell I was registering overpowered most other smells, so that tea was like water, and scented candles were unscented. The articles I had read say this condition “usually” goes away, but I’ve heard of people who have a permanently altered sense of taste, and that sounded like a terrible loss, so I hoped….
Also, I started taking zinc (my pharmacist friend’s recommendation) and Vitamin C, and doing more frequent saline nasal rinses (my doctor’s recommendation). After about ten days I thought maybe the odd smell was fading… and then one afternoon I returned from an errand and sniffed the evidence of my having roasted eggplant that morning – it wasn’t very pleasant, but it was a real cooking odor!
The next day, at church, incense, glorious and sweet and nothing like burning leaves. Thank you, Lord! The crowning delight was the morning I was a bit peeved at my building contractor, and without thinking why, I opened the front door, as though hoping to see a few construction guys driving up. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but the scent of the daphne floated up and filled my nose and mind with its essence, welcome and true.
The first scent I noticed on my walk this morning was from the mown weeds, drying up and exuding the remembrance of new-mown hay, which I rarely encounter in my life these days.
There were conifers whose oils were being drawn by the warm sun into the air I breathed… and I forgot for a moment that I wasn’t camping in the redwoods with my family, walking on a duff-y path with gigantic trees towering on either side.
Just on the other side of the creek from the “hay,” was the soccer field with its green and rich scent I used to get once or twice a week, as I stood on the sidelines watching my children run kicking down that lush lawn.
And there were flowers hanging over from the back yards, honeysuckle and potato vine, and other flowering vines, all heady-sweet and making me wonder why I should ever think dessert was anything to satisfy.
I’m leaving this honeysuckle photo large because there seems to be a tiny long-winged fly hanging on to one yellow part right in the middle. Do you see it, too?
The most familiar aromatic of my walk must be the oaks, because they are ubiquitous in all the places in California that I have ever lived. I think these are live oaks, with their thorny leaves that cling to any concrete patio, etc. that you are trying to sweep them from.
I think those two pictures above, taken of two different trees, are both live oaks, but one has much more concave leaves than the other.
The last classic aromatic plant I passed before I left the path was roses, the little climbing pink and white ones that spill over the fence and pull me off the path to sniff them or take their pictures again and again. This morning I resolved to come back later with my shears — it’s only three blocks — to cut a few for the house.
“Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice…”
For a few days I helped out the family of Soldier and Joy, as grandmas like to do when new babies are around. I mostly played with little Liam. (Scroll down fast if you can’t wait for the Liam-related pics.) We took walks around their neighborhood, in the Sacramento area where the hot summers make for some lush landscapes. In their very own back yard live two or three real orange trees, and guess what? It’s orange blossom time right now.
If you’ve never smelled orange blossoms, I hope you get the chance before you die. The scent they exude must be what Adam and Eve smelled in Eden before death came into the world. Which makes me realize, on second thought, that you won’t have missed anything if you get to heaven without experiencing orange blossoms, because the Reality of the the One who made them in order to give us something of Himself will be there to delight you so much more.
It’s a quiet and peaceful neighborhood I was pushing the stroller through. I met up with two ladies older than I who were right away taken with Liam. I asked them, “What is that scent in the air that is so sweet?” We knew it wasn’t orange blossoms, though mention was made of them.
“The photinias are all blooming now,” said one woman, and that rang a bell with me, though farther down the street I came upon one of the photinias that grow as big as trees here, and a whiff of the flowers made me know that their scent wasn’t the only ingredient in the spring mix. Many, many big trees of all sorts are blooming in this town, and it’s like strolling through a bouquet.
The Raphiolepis is no doubt in the mix of scents. I’ve never seen such giant specimens before.
Liam seems amazingly studious of natural artifacts for a child of 21 months. As we walked past the landscaped yards or the occasional weedy strip, I plucked a dandelion more than once, and a red leaf, juniper needles and cones, and a poppy flower to hand to him. We smelled roses.
He examined each thing as he rode, and then stashed it in the tray of his stroller. When we arrived home his mother put all of the items on a plate, and that was not the end of it. He kept looking at his treasures and carrying the plate back and forth. We did the same thing the next day, and then my back was hurting.
I had ordered a compilation of Eloise Wilkin stories sight-unseen, and brought it along for Liam. He now doesn’t want to read any other book, I think partly because this one is well-suited for practicing the thumbing of the pages along their edges that children enjoy learning to do, as in a flip book — is there a word for that? It doesn’t work if the pages are too few or too thin, and certainly not with most books aimed at toddlers.
After sitting on my lap and getting acquainted with the book in this cursory way, we found pictures that bore resemblance to things in his world. Of course that is common in books for small children, but I suppose I started a new way of making connections for Liam when, as we were looking at a picture of a bumblebee and I was making the “buzz” sound, I said, “There must be bees around your orange trees right now — let’s go find out,” and we dropped the book right there to go see the real thing.
There were bees, but almost too high to see, and they were at the height of their midday frenzy right then, but L. paid close attention. That afternoon when we were playing with sidewalk chalk and water out on the patio that they shade, he suddenly looked up in the trees as though listening for the bees, and then he ran into the house to fetch the book and came out to stand underneath holding it with both hands very solemnly as he gazed up for a minute.
This sort of thing happened with several more connections, such as his riding toy, a bright plastic contraption with lights flashing that didn’t much resemble the humble wooden kiddie car of yesteryear featured in the book. But he saw enough likeness to believe us, and began to want to bring his toy from across the room to sit next to the couch where we were reading.
The most fun link was with the tree swing. Wilkin’s illustration in one story shows a swing that is nearly identical to the one in Liam’s magnolia tree, and he must have the book out there on the grass when I pushed him in it. I opened it to the page with the picture he wanted, and set it against the trunk where he could see it while he swung up and back and I recited “How Do You Like to Go Up in a Swing?” which poem, by the way, is also in that book. He laughed and pointed to the picture and I hoped I wouldn’t have to swing him as long as that child was swinging.
Lying in bed my last morning there, I was blessed by the songs of scores of enthusiastic birds, and the smell of orange tree flowers coming through the screen. I had been able to leave it open all night as the season is now so warm and mild. Through the glass door I could watch those orange trees take shape in the dawn.
Now I am home, where it’s mild, but not warm. I wouldn’t mind going back to Flowery Town soon. Next time I do, sometime after Pascha, I’ll give you a little report on Liam’s baby brother, or at least a nickname for the little guy. He’s very dear!
The air was still cool, but the sun was already drawing the smells out of all the plants along the bike path when I walked along the creeks this morning. We had rain the last couple of days, so the leaves and grasses that have been drying to a crisp got washed and mixed into a good kind of stew.
My first impression, though, was auditory, the sound of ducks, and crows, and Canada geese, all commenting on the morning. Then a flash of silent white against the golden brown background, an egret, not squawking about anything, a quiet fisherman.
The paths are littered with piles of leaves, mostly brown now, like the live oak, which I was glad not to be sweeping off a patio. Their thorn-rimmed cups turn upside down and hold on to concrete surfaces for dear life. That last phrase will be my mnemonic from now on helping me to remember the name of at least one oak.
Mr. Glad wondered at my bringing home a redwood branch, when the tree behind us is dropping similar ones into our yard and pool every day and making hours of work for him to collect the prickly things. When you know you will have to retrieve each one from the bottom of the pool or the decking, it seems that the rich brown sprays are falling constantly, but the trees remain evergreen.
The little redwood cones is darling, isn’t it? Less than an inch.
I leaned over a bridge and breathed in the essences of a thousand bits of living things, carried in the air still moist from the rains, and stirred together by the breeze. The dominant herb in the mix was the wild fennel, fallen down heavy with water, dried brown and mildewed black, and in a tumbled mess with blackberry brambles and grasses and everything I don’t know the name of. The beauty that used to be visual is now distilled into heady scents.
It was reminiscent of an anisekuchen I have made at Christmastime, but the recipe for this nourishing treat includes a multitude of mysterious and essential ingredients. As I was whiffing my fill it seemed I would never want another bite of white-sugary anise cake or any kind of cake again — can’t I just run down to this creek bed and breathe? Oh, but it’s a seasonal dish, and you never know just how long it will be served. But come back tomorrow and something nice will be on the menu for sure!