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Community Green: The Scent of Place

By Pamela Noel

Special to Plumas News


Sitting on a rocky point overlooking the river where it joins the Pacific ocean, I am a secret audience to a bountiful gift of nature.  Sights reveal themselves as the river pulses, meeting the opposing force of incoming tides.  I see ducks, sea gulls, seals, and an occasional kayak.  A  bridge in the distance reminds me that human nature is an influence on much of what I experience during the day.  Many are leaving this Eden for jobs, farther inland; enabling them to return, after their work is finished.

Feeling the wind hitting my face from the west, I then turn to the east to greet the sun.  Out here on this piece of granite, I feel  the marriage of both salty and fresh water.  It suits me.

Content just to sit, I hear sounds skip across the water.  Giving myself over to the senses I allow thought to flow out of my head, and into moist air.  The sound of waves come to me in the wind.  I hear the slice of the kayaker’s paddle cutting into the water, the keening sound of a seagull, the occasional downshifting of a truck across the river.

Of all the senses, scent is the one that impacts me most when I am wandering or resting in a wildish place.  During my walk to this rock today, I inhale the scent of fern and forest—the oily piquancy of bay laurels and the soft scent of redwoods co-mingling  an olfactory cocktail.  These smells return me to my childhood, where I spent weekends in a California bay village, arising before dawn, making my way down to the mud flats, exposed by low tide.  That muddy, seaweedy scent takes me into my eight year-old self, when my only worry was whether or not I would lose a rubber boot in the mud. As the sun warms, I begin to inhale the perfume of dew evaporating from the grass around me, bringing the image of rich earth to my nose.  The awareness of what is below in the soil — worms, roots, seeds, shoots, the darkness and the sun that make all this possible—invites a sense of gratitude to fill me.

As I sit, all these gifts gather to become an unspoken mantra—allowing me into that precious place of space, where no list or obligation exists.  Bathed in this experience, time has no meaning, distance doesn’t matter, and the only energy required is to breathe.

Every place has its scent.  The warmth of the mountains brings the smell of granite and pine to my nose.  The rushing chasms of cascading streams have a smell of clean, with the feel of mist and immeasurable energy. Valley crops in the evening darkness have a smell of growth and irrigated dampness.

Scent of place is one of the strongest memory triggers we have.  Mindful of a past memory, my daughter recounts how she would go into my closet as a child, when I was away, in order to feel comforted and close to me.  I remember the smell of my grandmother’s pantry, the bins of provisions—especially cookies—that lined her shelves.

Many of my most pleasant and poignant memories occurred outside the confines of humanity–salt spray, wind allowing me to sail faster than I could run, lying on the earth, looking up through a dappling mixture of sunshine and leaves.  And today, sitting on this rocky point, I can enjoy how this moment melds with the past, meeting in the present for an incredible morning.

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