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.
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.
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.
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?