Friday, June 6, 2008

Scent as Journal

But what is a Russian Olive, some of you have asked? I can import pictures and I can tell you about the vivid memories which race through my head each time I breathe their scent, but the true beauty of the tree is not in its shape or its leaves or its color, or the way its bark seems to flake away in long fibrous strands, it can not be truly described by its sharp thorns or even the long, tubular faded yellow flowers that gush forth along its branches in June. Honestly, they are not pretty trees. When mature they look like enormous, unruly clumps of sagebrush. The true miracle of the Russian Olive can be discovered not with your eyes but with your nose. Its fragrance, which––glory and praise to the universe––I was able to enjoy fully today, is the binding on the spell that is cast on me each June. I've described it as sweet and buttery, but that's only in texture. Scents have textures that rise up and fall away from one another like the strange architecture of M.C. Escher, winding in intricate and unexpected lines, twisting back and forth on each other, distorting perspective and reason. The scent of the Russian Olive is just as obvious and elusive, sweet and buttery, like heavy cream with a bit of lemon meringue whipped into it, but there's also a top note of mint that is countered with a very subtle cinnamon bass note, both so caught up in their dance and mingling that neither exists apart from the other, becoming, instead, something wholly unique, neither mint or cinnamon. There is the scent of green, not like grass or earth or wet, but the light and warmth around those things, the yellow that makes them green. There is also something dusty about the perfume, like a room left closed off for too long that has rendered breathing almost impossible. In my part of the world the explosion of its scent is the grand finale of all Spring's work, the crescendo that signals the burning advance of odorless Summer; it is to Spring as the changing of the leaves are to Autumn, just as bright, just as significant and, ultimately, just as heartbreaking. If I could I would send each of you a sprig which you could hold to your face as I'm holding the one I picked this afternoon near the lake on the most splendid of Spring days, and although it would not hold the same significance to you as it does in my life, you would understand its depth and allure, but unlike opening a page of my journal and reading my most private thoughts, you would learn a great deal more about me than simple words can convey.

4 comments:

Lori said...

That's how I feel about lilies-of-the-valley. My favorite aunt had a bed of them. She lived next to her parents (my grandparents, obviously) and Dad stopped to see them every day after work. When the lilies were blooming, she would send vases of them home to me. Sweet, delicate, sunny... they represented spring to me. I just noticed, letting Darwin out to harass his brothers, that my own lily bed is blooming, so I'll be bringing some in with me later. I love violets best of all, but their scent is nothing compared to my lilies!

Marty said...

OK Curt, you've convinced me. Not only am I out to buy the ingredients for Chicken Piccata, I'm stopping by the nursery to find out if I can purchase and plant a Russian Olive this late in the Spring.

Greg said...

I like the silvery leaves! The flowers are simple, too.

Such a complicated fragrance, and of course, like all such things, carries as much value for what other senses (like memory) it triggers, as well as the actual scent. Thanks for bringing us along.

duncan's internet friend said...

Yes Yes Yes! I am reading and rooting you right along in your description of Russian Olives having just had the pleasure of experiencing them this year. They were planted by the DNR to provide habitat, prevent erosion, etc. They have become quite a weed with how they spread - you never see just one! They take up the banks of the highway...and fill our nose with love.