Thursday, April 01, 2004

I discovered a unique place on the web - thanks to Cassandra - called Ecotone Wiki -- a group participatory weblog discussion site focusing on
*writing about place* - which is something, I found out, I do. I found out it is *something* other people do, too.

Here's my first post, on Smell and Place:

The first year we were delighted by the old apple orchard next door. At least forty huge old trees wore a wild profusion of blossom in the spring. Up close, they were marvelous - white, pink and pale green, multiplied by thousands, adorning the gnarly, unpruned fairy-trees--with a sweetness almost unimaginable.

Our first April there, we had a baby ...our youngest son, Max, was born on my birthday in the upstairs of that house. I remember rocking him by the door open to the deck, enjoying his perfection, and the scent of the apple blossoms wafting in the breezes.

We planted a dozen honeysuckles along a latilla pole fence, and Robert watered them faithfully. While this vine grows like a weed other places, in New Mexico even a weed sometimes needs nurturing to get started. The irrigation ditch ran along the side of the drive, and eventually the honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper and the trumpet vines grew like a jungle, fulfilling a plan and a dream that someday the view of our neighbor's messy yard would be concealed by vines and flowers.

The smell of honeysuckle will always bring me back to my own backyard, and as I stood there inhaling that fragrance, I would remember being a child of about 10 years old, delighting in the honeysuckle in the woods *down the creek* where I grew up in Pennsylvania. Especially in the early evening when the hummingbird-moths would flutter along the fence, the perfume would rise like a dream, and I would nearly swoon with the power of it.

Some sadness wells up with the beauty of these smells, the sense of loss and the memory of family and home that was always mixed with turmoil and pain. It is reflected in the landscape.

We walked the field together our last day, Robert and I and Max. We pondered the empty house, remembering. Twenty years had passed in the wink of an eye. So many stories! In the garden, father and son broke down in tears, we all hugged and the pain seared us; the son said, "I love you - thank you " to his father, who drank the words in like a draught of cool water and wept. As the December sun dropped suddenly behind us, we drove away.

We didn't know, weren't told, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway, that beginning the day after Christmas the huge old evergreens in the front would be chopped down and hauled off, after standing guard at least fifty years on that spot. I was shocked but accepting, as though the sentinels of those dark trees were Robert and I, standing watch, and now we were gone, our shadows never to cool and protect again.

Then, when the fence was taken out, and the roses, the lilacs, the trumpet vines and creeper and the honeysuckle torn from the ditch by the roots, I could only wonder why. It was as if we had held back the inevitable plunder and death by our insistence that beauty was worth something...worth protecting. But we were used to it by now.

Smells that will remind me of that place came to include burning garbage, burning cottonwood, road exhaust, diesel fumes from beeping forklifts and recreational bulldozing. A poignant rush of feeling at home comes with the particular scent of green chile roasting, wafting in the air of late summer as I sit in the shade of the mulberry tree, shucking ears of corn.

The apple orchard, so laden in the fall and reeking of vinegar, as the apples tumbled and rotted on the ground, was mowed down within the first year by chainsaws and replaced eventually by a grey house. The branches were piled high in a summer bonfire, and burned. Several of the trees were so big and their roots so deep, planted by the grandfather of the current owners seventy years ago, that the trees sprang up again from the roots, anew.

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