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Sweet Aromas of Summer
by David Lendrum

This is the season of sweet aromas; wafting about gardens, leaking out of rose covered fences, sliding across waiting traffic and turning heads in wonder. The tickle of sensation teases its way into our awareness, we are not searching for the scents, they come looking for us. They steal out of flower petals, slip off the surface of the mown grass, and roll out of herb gardens, on the prowl.

The old question about trees falling in the forest; do they make any noise if there is nobody around to hear them? It can be repeated with exclamation points about the world of scent and smell. Scent is in the world of the source: Roses, Astilbes, Oregano and Thyme. Smell is the response of the recipient: human, butterfly or catnip-loving feline.

Aromas are messages, highly sophisticated chemical graffiti, scrawled among the breezes and swept about with each passing gust. This ability to broadcast signals across the ether, broadbanding in search of potential interactors, is a technique shared across species, even across the line dividing the plant kingdom from the one occupied by the animals. It operates on a peculiar frequency, one active in many animals, but not perceived by the plants.

It is dependent on sensory organs developed through the eons; awareness of scent can spell survival for hunters and gatherers alike. Fruit or flesh, greens or grains, flowers or foliage all have distinct chemical essences, the boundaries of skin or waxy epidermis do not confine the creature absolutely. The dissipating material presence of the life form spreads thinly throughout the surrounding space, carrying with it the message of presence, ripeness and invitation.

The messages carried by the wandering molecules are all about attraction, they are not protective coloration or camouflage. They chant their "come hither" in a language so ancient that it never had to be learned. The responses are automatic, willing or not we turn seeking the source of the sweet scent.

This time of the summer, when the fragrant flowers are at their most abundant stage, life actually crackles around the yard. Moths, squirrels, bluejays and even bears are driven by the rising tide of aroma. Humans are no different; involuntarily we respond to the call of the flowers, are shocked awake by the sudden piercing smell of fire, and begin salivating at the sizzle of grilling onions.

Walking from bright sunlit beach into the cool forest is a sudden transition; eyes take a moment to adjust to the light levels, and as we pause, the unusual scent of the warm dry earth replaces the wind swept sea. Big Black Cottonwoods fill the air with the sweet pungent aroma that gave them the name "Bam Trees", called for the "Balm of Gilead" described in the Bible as the sweetest scent. Ferns and grasses, Alder leaves and Spruce gum, and the rusty dusty taste of the trail, mixes together to identify the exact place and time. A decade from now some hint of the same melange will instantly transport the lucky person back to the moment when they last smelled that combination. It may be the only trace of a place so changed by the progress of years that it can never be revisited, only remembered.

Standing in rubber boots, water licking at your shins, pulling on a rope with friends and family as the skiff is loaded or the last cooler is hoisted aboard, the sea and forest blend in an aroma so individual that you can call it up with your eyes closed. Lean back in the airplane seat, canned air and disinfected surfaces and all, and you can remember the scent of that moment and you are there.

Visit some friend's yard; sit with your back to a blooming Sitka Rose, waiting for them to get home. Honeysuckle and Summer Blooming Primroses blend their voices and whisper secrets as you wait. Hanging baskets of Pansies and Bacopa entice you onto a low deck and a collection of hardy roses, some you have never seen before, offer themselves to your scent starved self. It is almost embarrassing to be discovered there as the hosts return. They laugh; another guest has been snared.

Orchestrating gardens consciously to create fragrant oasises is an unusual concept, but one stroll down 12th Street will bring the idea to any contemplative soul. Our awareness of scent and fragrance is so subliminal that we would willingly surrender without even knowing why. Oh, the aromas of summer.

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