Tag Archives: smells

His house smells heavenly, too.

In the Orthodox Church, near the end of Divine Liturgy, there is a prayer to God to “Sanctify those that love the beauty of Thy House.”  Especially in my first months and years in the Orthodox Church I clung to that prayer, thinking, “Lord, there is a lot I don’t understand, and there are many ways in which I fail to live for You, fail to enter fully into the services; but one thing I know is that I do love the beauty of Your House.”

One aspect of that beauty that contributes to the worship I offer is incense. It is one of those elements that is left out whenever I post a picture taken in a church service. In those visual images you get, of course, only the visual.

When I shoot the photograph, it is in the midst of a lavish sensual experience: hymns and prayers being sung almost constantly, deacons and priests frequently censing everything and everyone in the temple, the smell of beeswax candles, and the touch of fellow worshipers as we bump past one another or when we arrange ourselves on the floor to hear the homily. Later when I look at the picture in my home, it so noticeably does not convey half of the sensations that were pressing upon my mind at the time. It is literally flat, and as a testimony of what went on, very lacking.

We believe that the heavenly Kingdom comes to us in the liturgy, so I can’t hope to give an inkling of what that is like to someone who has never been present, or whose heart is not ready to receive the Lord in these material ways. You really have to be there.

But I will include yet another image in this post, just to add visual interest, conceding to the limitations of this medium. This pic shows the people singing. Someone has said that the liturgy is like one continuous song.

I’ll let Wikipedia tell more about the tradition of censing: “As part of the legacy handed down from its Judaic roots, incense is used during all services in the Orthodox Church as an offering of worship to God as it was done in the Jewish First and Second Temples in Jerusalem (Exodus chapter 30). Traditionally, the base of the incense used is the resin of Boswellia thurifera, also known as frankincense, but the resin of fir trees has been used as well. It is usually mixed with various floral essential oils giving it a sweet smell. Incense represents the sweetness of the prayers of the saints rising up to God.”

From The Lament of Eve by Johanna Manley:

The fragrance of love! When we burn incense, we think of the fragrant heavenly aroma of love. The Holy Spirit, like a heavenly fire, brings the warmth of love into the human heart, and like a fresh wind, chases away the stench of sin and spreads the aroma of Christ to the world. That savor all the saints have borne within themselves. People have sensed it in living saints and in their relics. The Apostle speaks of this: “We are unto God a sweet savour of Christ,” the sweet perfume of recognition of the truth and the sweetness of love (cf. 2 Cor. 2:14-16).

Taking the cure with Rumer.

Is it unnecessary and even unprofitable to analyze my reading habits? Why not just read what I like? Because I don’t seem to know what I like, or what I have the strength for. In times of stress, such as in my current bereavement and during my husband’s illness before that, the intellect still jumps at the chance to read books of theology or philosophy, so I have gone on acquiring stacks of them… only to find that my mind will not be engaged enough to get through the first chapter.

Or, I try a “good novel,” hoping to be pulled into the story and have some vicarious excitement. Aha – that is the problem, as I realized yesterday, sick and sitting by the fire with a quiet book. I need rest, not excitement. I need, as I wrote a few years ago about another novel, to embark on a reading journey “as one takes a needed vacation or The Cure at a sanatorium.”

Rumer Godden is a writer whose presence on the pages of her fiction or non-fiction is always strangely comforting and nourishing to me. I suppose my recent acceptance of weakness led me to take her China Court off the shelf, after passing over it for years. Lately it seems that I have almost daily been wandering among the four rooms that house parts of my library, as I look for the Right Book. As I held this one in my lap I mused about why it is that.

When you need to heal and build strength, where do you like to be? Me, I like to be either alone in an orderly and comfortable place, or with kind and gentle, competent people who take care of the place and might even cook for me. If there is a garden attached, and lovers of trees and flowers who might 27a16-p101064228129fruitstandgardenstroll its paths with me, all the better. I could sojourn in this place indefinitely, until I felt in my bones the renewed energy that would prompt me to go home and dig in my own garden or clean house.

Being in Rumer Godden’s books is like that. And China Court is especially so, because it is about a well-appointed house and the generations who have lived and worked and died there, servants making up beds with fresh, age-softened linens and a grandmother who secretly hand-picks little bouquets for her favorite people to find on their nightstands. It has the drama of stories going back a hundred years, if you want that, but it is mostly about being there with real humans, many of them quite sympathetic, and of course none of them requiring anything of me.

I haven’t read too far yet  🙂 but I was charmed by this one scene and wanted to share it:

In the big house in Cornwall the large Quin Family gathers downstairs while breakfast is being cooked in the kitchen nearby. As the father Eustace reads from the Bible and prayer book… victorian-range

The smell of bacon drifts across the Lord’s Prayer — always for Eliza, the two are mingled, though she does not, at that age, get any of the bacon — and as the smell rises Eustace increases his pace….breakfast is waiting; the children, upstairs, have porridge and milk, white bread and the second best butter; but for Eustace and Adza the morning-room table is laid with porridge in blue and white plates, cream, brown bread, muffins, honey and rolls, while the bacon keeps in a silver dish over a flame, with another dish of kidneys or sausages or sometimes kedgeree.

-from China Court by Rumer Godden

Do you wonder what kedgeree is? I had never heard of it, but when I read on this page Kedgeree and saw the picture, it made me want to try making some myself. Sounds tasty!

Last week I was frying something using bacon fat left over from our Christmas feasting, and the smell of it warming in the pan brought back happy memories of my father and his mountain cabin, my grandma’s kitchen… it was curious how nourished I felt, before I had taken a bite.

I enjoyed reading about this Victorian Era breakfast and the well-supplied kitchen and staff that produced it. I sipped my tea before the fire, glad that I long ago graduated from the Porridge Upstairs stage of life, because I do like a little meat with my breakfast, though I haven’t tried kidneys yet. Winter days are cozy when taken with Rumer Godden, some bacon — and of course, prayer!

Sisters +1 Jelly

GL P1020238What is proper footwear for a mountain cabin? My sisters and niece showed me how to dress properly, and even provided the gear.

I had a very full long weekend. Unfortunately it necessitated me driving two exhausting days for the sake of enjoying two layover days with family, at my sister Cairenn’s cabin that I was experiencing for the first time.


Good thing I had little I needed to do on my recovery day but look at photographs and write sentences to go with them. While I’m still in a grouchy mood I’ll get the bad parts of the excursion off my mind first. That way I can have pleasant pictures at the end and maybe go to bed feeling more elevated. But, okay, before we get to the bad parts, a beautiful jay. And a close-up of his blueness:

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Drought. Here in the lower elevations of the more southern Sierra Nevada, the lack of adequate snow and rainfall for several years in a row is evidenced by the sight of many dead trees. And on my way up the hill I saw Lake Success, which is at about 4% of its capacity.GL P1020490 Lake Success crpGL P1020397

Camp Nelson is a small community at a much lower elevation than our family cabin that is also in the Sierras. This town stays open all year, and the roads get plowed every day when it snows. The last many miles going in are so curvy, I got carsick even though I was driving. Of course that made the drive seem even longer.

I haven’t beenGL P1020435orig in the High(er) Sierra since July. Maybe the trees there are also yellowing and dying by now, but I suspect that these at the lower elevations and farther south are suffering more. At least one big tree on Cairenn’s lot needs to be removed safely before it comes down dangerously. It’s the one on the left in this photo with the peak of her cabin below.

In many cases it’s not the lack of water that kills the trees, but the bark beetle that does it. A USDA article explains: “Under normal conditions, trees produce enough resinous pitch to drown and ‘pitch out’ the beetles that attempt to enter. When trees are stressed they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of defensive pitch and the beetles are able to bore deep into the trunks of trees, eventually killing the tree.”

GL P1020394 Chamaebatia foliolosa mountain miseryOne plant that was a new discovery for me has always been disagreeable to my sister Nancy. When she first pointed it out to me on one of our several walks together around the village, I leaned up close and she cried, “Don’t touch it!”

She didn’t want me to be contaminated by its notoriously clinging odor. This wildflower in the rose family, called Bear Clover or Mountain Misery, is also not appreciated by most animals because of its smell. In the forest’s ecosystem it plays a complex role, as I read about in this article. It’s very drought-tolerant and recovers quickly from fire, too.GL P1020377

What else is super drought-tolerant? Our beloved manzanita. I took almost as many pictures of manzanita last weekend as of Steller’s jays. The ones in Camp Nelson get so tall! They all looked particularly healthy; I think they have the added protection of not being the sort of material the bark beetle prefers.

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In this picture on the right we have just discovered a manzanita seedling growing in the bank, and it is about to be transplanted by group effort to Cairenn’s lot.

We looked at trees a lot during our Sisters +1 Retreat. Those huge pine trees, Ponderosas and Jeffreys, are both found in this area. I have written about them before on my blog, but as often happens, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know…



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They resemble each other in so many ways. I hadn’t even heard before that the bark of one smells like vanilla; ah, but which one is it…? Both, as I read when I got home. The ones we sniffed did have that yummy scent.

I could tell by the way I was frequently lagging behind on these walks, that we didn’t have enough of a group mindset to do an intensive tree study, and anyway I’m not encouraged to spend a lot of time on the questions myself when I read that even experts have had to correct their identification errors.

GL P1020440 Camp Nelson wall art

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On our walks we saw donkeys and mules and deer. One evening we saw seventeen deer on the “meadow” that is a sort of town green.

And a bear track! I circled it in green below, looking something like a thumbless human handprint.


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As we relaxed at the cabin, eating, playing games, eating, reading and chatting, eating, the Steller’s jays and squirrels entertained us and kept me busy with my camera.




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After I took about a hundred pictures of the jays I got down to business and did some sewing. I sewed a button on to my fleece jacket, which I then hung on a hook and left at the cabin – ugh! GL P1020415

I worked on one of my patchwork potholders, and started to take apart a pillow that was made for Pippin by her grandmother 30 years ago. I hope to spiff it up and re-stuff it.


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I even did some coloring with my sister and my niece Jelly. The picture I chose to color was one of the simplest in the book, and it reminds me a little of the elderberry bushes that I have admired so often up in the mountains. I didn’t see any in this area, though.




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What I did see were mountain sunflowers and their seed heads.


Two days with dear people went by so fast… Next thing I knew, I was driving back GL P1020461down that curvy road, early enough in the morning to get some more nice pictures. I had been taking vitamin B6 for two days, and maybe that was why I didn’t get queasy on the descent.

Just a little lower down there were fewer conifers and more desert-y plants to be seen, and wildly painted rock cliffs to highlight their drama.

Below is another plant I didn’t take the time to research today. It looks like some kind of berry bush, growing out of a rock cleft.

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…and I have to admit that yes, its leaves do somewhat resemble those of manzanita. I guess I have a fondness for leathery gray-green Survivors.

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As I wound my way down, off to the south the morning light came over the ridges and fell on forests of manzanita bushes that spread in rough bands across the slopes.

GL P1020469The last mountain scene I captured was of more rock, with late penstemon blooming out of it. I was amazed, and honored.

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When I arrived on the flats of the southern Central Valley, I kept taking pictures, because of the olive trees. More gray-green and hardy specimens! Tall ones dwarfing the orange groves…P1020495 Pville olives crp

…and just a few blocks from my old high school, old gnarly and knobby ones like this:


I was grateful for the chance to walk around in this grove, and the brief encounter was very satisfying. Just hanging around the trees must have given me the strength to soldier my way up the Interstate for the remaining hours that were required to get me home. I like being home.

Good night.