Up Close and From a Distance

Spring in the Washington, D.C. area, where I grew up and where I lived for the last 20+ years, is astonishingly beautiful – the profusion of flowering bulbs and bushes and trees, the sudden vigor and the lushness of it … it’s almost unreal-looking.  Like the oversaturated tones of a Technicolor movie, or the bright tints of a child’s illustrated book.  People flock to Washington, D.C. from all over the world to see the cherry blossoms downtown, especially around the Tidal Basin, but it’s just as glorious in the suburbs.  Those cherry blossoms reached peak bloom almost a week ago, and I’m … still out here in the high desert, impatiently waiting for something to happen.

Why, hello spring! Go home, you’re drunk.

I barely remember spring in Santa Fe, except for the wind and cold, even though I lived here for a decade in the 1990s; I visited almost every year since then, but always in summer.  It hit 70F briefly this past weekend, and I tell you what, I have never been happier to see 70F in my life.  Here’s a shot from a few days ago, when I woke up to 21F and several inches of snow, and the pervasive feeling that it would never, ever warm up outside.  The D.C. winter climate is cold and wet, but even in deep winter we’d have a day or two of wildly unseasonable warmth sweeping up from the south – maybe 72F on New Year’s Day, or 65 on some random day in January.  There’s no respite of that sort here.  It’s been a slog.

Also, spring doesn’t arrive here suddenly like it does in D.C., popping up overnight like a tipsy debutante in a floral dress on a carpet of green; it’s more of a slow awakening. On my many walks there’s a dawning sense of the landscape becoming less … dead-looking and desiccated, rather than much in the way of new growth.  The decorative cacti in people’s yards is plumping up.  I duck my head to pass the great, gray drifts of dormant silver-lace vine spilling from the tops of adobe walls and coyote fences along the sidewalks, and I spy two tiny green leaflets, proof that it’s not dead after all, just sleeping.  Little catkins on some of the trees. I’ve seen the first, hopeful tips of flowering bulbs still to come – tulips, iris, along with a few now-blooming crocus, and some shy, early daffodils in sheltered places.  The green of spring is much softer here, less chartreuse and shamrock, more silver and sage.

At least it’s warm inside.

My indoor plants are mostly succulents, which are much easier here given the low humidity, and they’re putting out wee nubs — clearly something’s changed for them, even if I can’t see it beyond a general appreciation for lengthier periods of sunlight.  I’m eyeballing my several big pots outside on the front and back patios, pondering what I’ll plant this year, but it’s still far too early to do it; our last frost date is weeks later than in D.C.  Even though we’re further south on a map, we’re also 7000 feet higher.

I have a sudden yen for a really galbanum-green scent, which makes sense and/but is so not me; that’s a smell I admire but never like to wear. Right now it’s juniper season (lots of airborne pollen) so I’m wearing my N95 outside on walks, and I think that’s helping my allergies along with plenty of nasal/eye rinsing, but my sniffer’s a bit of a blank, perfume-wise.  My huge basil plant under the kitchen skylight that I (improbably) managed to keep alive all winter smells amazing though, it’s scenting much of the house.

It did all melt quickly…

My daily long walk often takes me down a brief stretch of slightly-busy road, with faster traffic on one side and a wooded area on the other.  A week or two ago I stopped right there on the sidewalk, my attention arrested by this … smell, this very strong smell, neither good nor bad, and nothing nearby that would seem to be the cause.  It was a deeply compelling smell, musky and indolic and somehow both sweet and sour.  I peered into the woods and – oh, look!  Maybe twenty feet away was a dead skunk, presumably killed by a car (or a coyote or a bobcat).  No, I had no desire to go roll in it – I wouldn’t want it on me, or even near me.  But every time I walk by, that skunk and that smell are there to greet me, and it makes me laugh because of Portia’s recent post on HdP Petroleum and odd smells, and my comment that the smell of a skunk from a great distance is … kind of fabulous, and Portia’s subsequent comment that the smell of the hillside urinals in India are also kind of honey-ed and beautiful, from a distance. It’s funny, isn’t it, our senses of smell, what attracts and repels us?  A smell that would make us gag up close can be quite beautiful from far away.  I’m telling you, the miasma from that dead skunk in a minuscule amount would be a great base for a really wicked perfume.

Is there a particular note like galbanum, or a scent, that calls to you in spring?  What’s spring looking like for you?  (I think for Portia, spring’s looking like … fall.)  If there were a fragrance with a “skunk” note would you wear it?  (Weed and burning sage smell a bit like skunk to me, your mileage may vary.)  Is there a smell you like a little of, but not a lot of?

  • Portia says:

    Heya March,
    Laughing as I read how much we love the freaky stuff from afar.
    Yes, I’d definitely wear a skunk based frag. No problem. we have possums here in Australia and flying foxes, their piss smells like weed from a bit of distance and I’m constantly mistaking one for the other.
    Fall is looking WET here and I hope you see some warmth soon,
    Portia xx

  • Tom says:

    Lilac always made me think of spring, and lily of the valley. Can’t think what would make me think of it here. The gradations are so subtle.

    I get the skunk thing (well I guess I would..) I had it with the stinky flower at the Huntington (corpse flower?) I went to visit when it was in bloom. It was overwhelming, but you could actually imagine that dialed down from 11 to say 3 it would be almost pretty.

    • March says:

      Lilacs are popular here, they do well as long as they’re watered, and they don’t get mildew like they do back east. And I know what you mean about the corpse flower, there was one a few years ago at our arboretum! I thought, dialed waaaaay down that wouldn’t be a terrible smell…

  • Dina C. says:

    You should be glad you’re not in the DC area this week cause we’re Polar Vortexing! It’s 20 degrees colder than usual, and it’s agony. The cherry trees were at their peak last week, my hyacinths are blooming in the backyard, and the wind is whipping up a gale. I’m always in the mood for galbanum, one of my top two favorite notes, but I agree that it’s especially fitting in Spring. Green florals are my favorite. Chamade, Gucci Envy, SL Bas de Soie, No 19, HdP Vert Pivoine, LL Iris 39, Safari, today I’m wearing 28 La Pausa. I don’t like the smell of skunk, or gasoline, or oud. I think it might have to do with my migraine sensitivity. Strong scents are too much for me. But galbanum can be strong, yes? I can’t explain it. That one my brain allows. shoulder shrug

    • March says:

      I’ve heard about the D.C. weather, it seems awfully late for that kind of cold! I hope it doesn’t mess with anything later this year … I get migraines too and there are times when we have to be sooooo careful. Love La Pausa and Chamade!

  • cinnamon says:

    Oh, to unpack this. I hope your spring starts to spring very soon. The weather issue we have is gale force winds and heavy rains (sometimes at same time). Truly awful. I hate that type of wind. I’m with you on not being able to wear green stuff but I do have a couple of green candles I really enjoy (one’s an old l’Artisan that’s no longer made — need to put that in kitchen). Weird smells. Creosote would be mine. All kinds of memories and I just like the smell.

    • March says:

      I JUST learned from Alityke below that the UK doesn’t have skunks! I can imagine those wind/rain storms where you are and not sorry we don’t have them. You know … I love a green candle, when I’m sniffing fancy ones in stores. Cire Trudon has a green one I’m wild for, maybe a golf course? Lots of grass… I should splash out on it, I’ve never done so.

  • Alityke says:

    My only experience with cadavers is people. Passing quickly on….. No skunks here in the UK but in my head I’m guessing there are molecules shared with civet, musk deer pods & other animal products now banned from perfumery.

    Spring scent mean greens. Dryad, No 19 EdT, Cristalle, vintage Jolie Madame, Eau de Soir & Eau de Campagne all get some love.
    As spring gathers momentum blossom scents come in, Floris Madonna of the Almonds, Beige, Idle by Romilly Wilde, L’Ete en Douce & Aerin Lilac Path.

    • March says:

      Whoa no skunks in the UK?!? I love facts like this, they’re ubiquitous here, like rabbits and raccoons and pigeons… yeah I’m assuming it’s some strong musk. I love your spring greens and blossom scents. Hmmm, maybe I’ll dig up my Cristalle Eau Verte which is a little green…

  • Musette says:

    LOL! I would’ve cut my own throat, had that snow come my way … becauuuuse… here? IT WOULD LAST FOREVAH! Because, as sure as shootin’, the day after that huge snowfall we would get a vortex, it would drop to -22F (it has happened)… and that stuff would turn to permafrost!


    Charms & Leaves, baby!
    Iris 39
    Some other iris
    Even more other iris.



    • March says:

      Iris! Love the flowers, love the fragrance … I know I’ve been poetic on here forever about the way the blossoms smell, that sharp sweetness. Yeah, I kept reminding myself that day when it snowed, it won’t stick around! Warmer days to come…

  • Pam says:

    I agree about skunk. We occasionally have a dead one by the side of the road and it’s an interesting smell. Yes, it would work in a perfume, but maybe not as the dominant note.

    • March says:

      HA! I’m not the only one! I agree it can’t be the dominant note, I’ve been thinking about that — maybe something like a white floral?

  • Tara C says:

    My wisteria is going great guns here in SoCal. Just gorgeous. I’m enjoying Byredo Open Sky, which has a pot/hemp smell, but I love the fresh greenness of it. I also love iris and violet in spring. Just got bottles of Guerlain muguet and cherry blossom so those will go into rotation. I like small doses of honey but not overdosed (except for Hiram Green Slowdive…)

    • March says:

      Love wisteria! It’s popular here in the summer, although you have to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t take over the world… those Guerlains sound perfect for spring. And I should try that Byredo, which I wonder if they have it at that shop downtown, I feel like maybe they do….