Monday, July 14, 2008


"If there are words for all the pastels in a hue––the lavenders, mauves, fuchsias, plums, and lilacs––who will name the tones and tints of a smell? It's as if we were hypnotized en masse and told to selectively forget. It may be too, that smells move us so profoundly, in part, because we cannot utter their names. In a world sayable and lush, where marvels offer themselves up readily for verbal dissection, smells are often right on the tip of our tongues––but no closer––and it gives them a kind of magical distance, a mystery, a power without name, a sacredness."
(Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses)

I have always been a person made drunk by his senses. Perhaps that's why I write. A vast portion of this life has been spent merely standing witness to the world around me, whether watching it with my eyes, recording the tones and cadence of it with my ears or breathing it in. We are all consumed by our senses--we could not function without them––but I believe that very few of us are as enslaved to them as I have been.

No one wants to choose which of his or her senses they could do without, but if I had to pick a favorite, the one that holds the most significance in my life, it would be scent. My days are comprised of Scent Chapters, from the smell of Ken's breath on the pillow next to me when I wake up in the morning to the scent of his hair on the same pillow when I fall asleep. I would be lost without my eyes or my ears, but I would be hopeless without my nose. The place in our brains which registers odors is right next door to the place which helps facilitate our memory, which is why a fleeting wave of perfume or an autumn afternoon can conjure vivid memories of days passed. With the exception of several months in college, I have a pretty sharp memory and I attribute it not only to my sense of smell but my appreciation and dedication to it.

For much of this past Spring I wrote about the perfume of my precious Russian Olive trees, how they are the signal that pulls me out of hibernation and reawakens me to the splendor of the world. My home in southeast Idaho is covered with Russian Olives and driving through the valley on an early summer night is pure bliss, enough to hold my heart captive to a place I've long since left. In contrast, my time in Illinois, although rich in many other respects, was devoid of them and I can not remember a time feeling more out of place. The rousing of summer has always been an important part of my life, a magnificent explosion of joy and sensuality, and while the return of the Russian Olives is exhilarating, their fading is equally devastating.

This is my first year living in Littleton and despite being a rather homogeneous place filled with strip malls, big box stores and small-minded, conservative people, I have discovered a new scent that will forever impact my life. If the story of my time in Idaho can be told by sage and wild mint, Russian Olives, dust and Juniper berries, and the shorter tale of Chicago is written by the scent of the lake, Littleton will chronicle my newfound love of the Linden tree.

I have been surrounded by them for the past year, but having moved to our current home in late July of last year, I'd missed the splendor of their fragrance by days. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I took notice of them while on one of my countless walks with Duncan. I hadn't paid them any notice at all and didn't even know their name until a few days ago when I couldn't stand it any longer and decided it would be shame to continue luxuriating in their scent without at least learning what to call them. They look like an ordinary tree, the kind a child draws with crayons in elementary school and there appears to be nothing extraordinary about them. But then July happens and everything about them changes. They explode into a million tiny, yellow blossoms which eclipse the tree and bend its branches under their weight.

And the scent! Oh, the scent! It can only be described as lilac dipped in honey and cooled by the gentlest of northern breezes. The flowers may be small but they are by no means insignificant. They bake in the heat of the sun all day and bathe the nights in their sweetness, a scent that envelopes and intoxicates, causes the moon to swoon and radiate. I have never smelled anything so delicious and it is only now that the flowers are dropping from the trees, crumbling into a fine gold dust which covers the windshields of our cars and catches under the wiper-blades, fills the gutter and crunches under foot before getting tracked inside where it collects against the edges of the door, that I realize how incredibly incomplete the rest of this summer will be without it.

But now I know. Now I can pine through autumn and shiver through the terrible scentless cold of winter with this memory and I have something else to look forward to, like Christmas or birthdays. Now that I have the Linden, Summer has become more magical than I believed it to be only a month ago.

Away I walked for hours
whence stands the linden tree,
and still I hear it whisp'ring:
You'll find your peace with me!
(Wilhelm Müller, "Der LIndenbaum")


Greg said...

OMG, I LOVE Diane Ackerman's book!!

And I thank you for the introduction to lindens, of which I was previously unaware, except as the name of trees distant whom I did not know.

Cheryl said...

Our Linden is Kev's favorite. I find it almost overpowering at times.

caboval said...

I have never heard of a Linden. I need smellavision on my laptop!

traci said...

There are trees all around me on Logan Blvd. There are huge towering maples, that seem on fire with yellow in the fall and the random leftover oaks that litter the ground with acorns. (Truth be told, that's the only way I know they are oaks, as uneducated I am in trees.)
There is also a type of tree that I don't know that name of but that take over the olfactory senses every spring. I wonder if they are Linden's because the air is filled with such a huge aroma when they bloom, it seems the streets smell of nothing else. It would be nice if they were and that my dear friend and I are not just looking up at the same moon and stars, but sensing the same sweet spring.

Curt Rogers said...


The Linden typically blooms in July (the Polish word for July is a form of "Linden"). It would be nice to know we're smelling the same sweet spring. Maybe we need to work on a way to smellmail via computer!