The Nose Knows This Season

by MB. Wulf
(New Hampshire)

All the senses are nourished in every season, but nothing indulges them like the emerging spring after the long dismal winter. And though spring lavishly offers color to the sense of sight and birdsong to the sense of hearing, she isn't stingy with the sense of smell.

Perhaps the first aroma you'll notice in spring is something you don't even have a name for. You definitely notice it if you're a gardener: that kind of moist, kind of pungent, almost raw potato or hippie patchouli aroma welling up from the nice, rich loam you've just sunk your spade into while preparing a new flowerbed. It's produced by microorganisms and it's called "geosmin," which comes from the Greek and means "earth smell." Geosmin contributes to another familiar fragrance: the smell in the air after a good rainstorm following a dry spell. That aroma has a name too. It's called "petrichor," from two Greek words, one meaning stone and the other meaning blood that flows in the veins of the gods. Now isn't that a poetic notion--that the very rocks forming this planet we walk on are alive with the blood of divine beings? Perhaps if we took metaphors like this more to heart, we'd be nicer to the earth.

So many other things offer us fragrant delight in this tender season. For example, Easter lilies. Even though their arrival in supermarkets and florist shops might be way ahead of their natural arrival in your garden, the season wouldn't be spring without their exotic but clean perfume. We've come to expect it, like incense at a religious or magical rite.

Then there's lily of the valley. These prolific little ground cover plants love to take over shady areas, and most of the summer they're just sprawling leaves that don't quite earn their keep by keeping down all the competing weeds, but put up more effort than you have the heart to stifle. And then comes that day in May, usually, when the waxy little nodding white bells--or sometimes pink bells--open up and the innocent, inimitable perfume is noticeable far beyond the boundaries of your garden. Apple blossom is like that, too. And lilac.

Oh, lilac! Everyone remembers bringing a bouquet of lilac somewhere, to someone. Like to a teacher, during those last few weeks before school lets out for the summer. First kisses often happen beneath blooming lilac branches. The writer Edward Bunyard called the fragrance of lilac "the very heart and soul of memory." There's quite a long season for lilacs, too, because there are so many different species and cultivars, extending the bloom season right into the summer. There are even repeat bloomer lilacs now, which, if you pamper them, will give you a second fragrant bloom in late summer or early fall. You might think spring flowers in fall are a little blasphemous. But wait till you're a little older! Perhaps you'll be glad of a little spring in the autumn of your days.

Nature offers her perfume mostly to pollinators. But you get to enjoy them too. Isn't that a nice arrangement?

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