Zombie Summer Road Trip

No, Zombie Summer Road Trip is not the name of a new perfume, though it would be Faaabulous, wouldn’t it?  Instead, Zombie Summer is a term I use to describe this time of the year, in the Midwest, where the light begins to glance, the grass begins to crunch and the days end juuuuuust a bit earlier.  These late-Summer days are both constant and mutable (then again, isn’t every day?), with smells and light laying heavy, then flitting off in the nanosecond.  Most of the Midwest is under heat advisory, nearly daily – and even when it isn’t it’s still HOT AF!  Most of us just stumble along in a stupor, hoping we make it from the parking lot to the wherever without collapsing.  And Road Trip?  Well.  Road Trip!

It sounds awful but, in truth, I love these days.  I love them even more when I do a road trip along a river.  Last week?  I drove along TWO rivers!  Coming back from Kansas (where I stayed in a friend’s glam-assed MidMod house, complete with Rat Pack Glamazon pool! – and, btw, is there anything more luxe than the smell of chlorine on a swimsuit, drying in 90F heat?  I think not), I decided to make a stop in Louisiana MO, to visit Stark Bros, my fruit tree suppliers (I am that lunatic who loves driving to nurseries I’ve mail-ordered from!  It’s a Thing.) and from there, I wended my way up the Mississippi and then over to the Illinois.  Here’s the thing about river roads:  they have a smell all their own.  A bit of ‘eau du frog’ as March would say.  This time of year, it’s accompanied by fresh-cut grass and ripening corn, without the anhydrous punch that permeates the early Spring air.  And the little towns….most of them significantly diminished, which gives them a bit of a zombie quality – whenever I approach one of them I always turn my music off and open my windows so I can experience the sounds and smells the town has to offer.  Most of them smell like dust, drying grass and dry, creaking wood .  These aren’t tourist towns, so hardly anyone is out and about (especially at 3p on a hot July day); they’re stone-quiet and the buildings are empty-looking and blind.  In Winter, those towns have a sad quality but in Summer…I dunno… Summer’s so stultifying that their abandonment doesn’t stand out so much, especially when you see a couple of little boys on bicycles, with fishing poles across their shoulders..heading to the river.


still fab after all these years

For me, these trips are best done solo.  I am, by nature, a solo traveler, so these river drives offer succor rather than the stress that goes with “are we there yet?’ and (Floyd forbid) Interstate travel. On the river roads, if you slow down and just ‘be’, you can hear the cicadas sawing away and listen to a cardinal’s whistling tune.  and it’s just you, so there’s no fear that your passengers will mutiny, toss you into the trunk and make a mad dash for I-74, so they can get home to binge-watch Justified.

Ann’s ‘Road Trip’ post got me thinking about scent for travel.  To be honest, it was so stinkin’ hot (102F at one point) that any scent other than an attar would’ve just slithered right off my skin – and I didn’t have an attar, so I sprayed Trapp’s Tuberose Room Spray in the car, which was a lovely accompaniment.   To be honest (again!), though, had it been cooler I would’ve had the windows open and just let the river valley smells be my co-pilot.  102?  Not happenin’.

Seriously, though.  102?  Who thought that was a good idea?

About 50 miles from home, something shifted in the weather and it actually became COOL!  Well, cool-ish (amazing how the comparisons change – if it’s 102F at 3p, then 80F at 7p is nearly frigid!).  I was thrilled to be able to drive with the windows down and smell the scents that appear in the evening (extreme heat bakes all but a hog or chicken farm out of the air – I’m not sure that anything on earth can clear the smell of hogs and chickens).  At a stop sign, there was a stand of Casa Blanca lilies, just off to the right – it was every bit as narcotic as the ones in my garden.   At 2p I wouldn’t be able to smell them.  At 7, they perfumed the air for nearly half a mile. A dairy farmer was cutting grass for hay – is there any smell more Summer than cut grass? It has a riper, deeper note than Spring grass, less aquatic, more honeyed.  There’s a Santa Maria Novella perfume, Fieno, that is the perfect embodiment of this time of year, with that touch of dryness that offsets the sweet aspect of hay.  and I was checking Surrender to Chance to see what else is out there, hay-wise – and they have a Grass/Hay collection!  One of the beauties of the Cartier Heures line is Fougeuse (which is in the StC collection) and I always forget that one – it’s GORGEOUS, with a bit of green – again, to offset the hay sweetness!  Uncle Serge has Chergui, which is another one I forget – this is just ridiculous, as I LOVE the smell of hay!  I need to get myself together and at least try to remember who’s done notes I adore.  I blame the heat.  It was 102~

Are any of you taking road trips this Summer?  Do you Interstate it or take the Blue Highways?  Windows down?  Windows up?  Hay?  or Nay?


  • springpansy says:

    Oh, A, I just loved this post. Bookmarking it now. I can smell the dust and the wet green smells and the hay right along with you. I prefer warm weather to pure heat, but at the same time that heavy hot air with the slow sounds of the orchard sprinklers ticking around and my dripping swimsuit and the way the just mowed grass smelled – all of it reminds me childhood summers, in a good way. There was always a book to read, or a fruit pie to bake (I grew up on an orchard) or a summer fair to attend. It probably sounds hokey, but I loved it. I’m ready to take a blue highway road trip with windows down!

    • springpansy says:

      And, darn, forgot to tell you that Fougeuse is a favorite of mine too. I only have a good-sized sample, but it’s definitely full bottle worthy. So beautiful.

  • Kathleen says:

    I enjoyed reading your road trip story and could imagine the smells that you described. I also love road trips and prefer Blue Highways when possible. I have a husband who makes it his mission to get anywhere asap, but I prefer to relax and take my time driving. I never mind when I get to drive alone (with the dogs). We take at least three road trips per year with the dogs; usually two in the CO mountains and one to AZ.

  • hczerwiec says:

    This post was a lovely crystallization of a summer moment and mood! I used to love to road trip with my hubby, definitely blue highways — but with the kiddo in tow, I prefer the speed and directness of interstates. I’m not super well-versed in hay scents, though I’ve liked what I’ve smelled — I’ll have to check out your picks! I lurvvvvved the sadly now-discontinued Coeur de Vetiver Sacre from L’Artisan — the vetiver had a very sunny hay note to it.

    • Musette says:

      LOL! Parents of small children (or ANY children-aged children) look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest Blue Highways. My DS drove from WI to MI (the Southern route) with his wife, 3 kids, the dog and a camper in tow – he blasted down the Interstate like somebody was after him!


  • Dina C. says:

    What a beautiful essay Anita! Thank you for sharing it with us. I could see you driving along, and smell the frogs, the hay, and the dusty towns. I’ve added Fieno and Fougeuse to my “To Sniff” list. They sound great. DH and I recently drove up to the NYC area to visit friends. Since he was in the driver’s seat, it was interstates, windows up, AC blasting all the way. My consolation: singing along with the radio.

    • Musette says:

      Thank you for the kind compliment! That trip to NYC sounds ….. well, Miss Daisy here would’ve been curled up in the back seat, covered in a blanket, snoozing. xoxoxo

  • rosarita says:

    Thanks for taking us along, Ms A! I love road trips and always prefer blue highways unless we’re trying to Get Somewhere. My father was the king of road trips; in the winter he would study the atlas and plan routes. I enjoy traveling solo but the best road trip I ever had was driving to Montana with my parents the full month of June, ten years ago when they were in their 80s. We took a week to get there and a week to get back and Dad had planned it to show me places – who knew about the hills in Iowa along the Mississippi or that there’s a petrified wood and quartz park in Lemon, SD? I love the smell of hay and obviously need to check out StC asap!

    • Musette says:

      Ho, yus! The Dreaded ‘Getting Somewhere’

      That trip with your parents is definitely cool – and the stuff of memories!


  • Tara C says:

    Sounds wonderful! I have not been on a blue highway road trip in many years. I have a love/hate relationship with weather. I love extreme cold and heat, but both of them go on for far too long in Montréal. I would love to have one month of each, then the rest of the year at 70F/22C. I always prefer windows down when weather permits.

    I used to have SMN Fieno but I never reached for it so I gave it away. The natural scent of hay is pleasant to me though. I like smelling the ambient smells in a new place.

    • Musette says:

      I used to love extreme heat & humidity … until a few years ago, when I suffered heat exhaustion. It’s left me much more sensitive to the effects of heat, now, and it stinks!
      And yes, windows DOWN!


  • Pam says:

    Thanks for the trip! I felt like I was riding right along with you. Maybe in the backseat. Keeping my mouth shut and not whining for you to stop at a MacDonalds. Great smells.

    • Musette says:

      oh, we could’ve stopped at McDonald’s if you wanted to. I had a co-pilot on the trip out, and we went to Steak & Shake! She’s from back East and had never had a Steak & Shake experience. It was magical!