Sunday, October 25, 2015

I have traded the odor of skunk...

for the scent of stinkbug. One of our dogs was skunked last week, and although the smell has lessened somewhat, (in that your eyes don’t actually burn when you enter the house) the smell is still pervasive. Especially when the dog is wet, as she has been much of the past few days.

But I left all that behind on Friday and headed up to the cabin for a little communing with neighbors who aren’t quite as noisy as the ones in the alley behind my house. Even their language, when they do speak, seems more musical and less, shall we say, prone to expletive. At least it seems that way from where I’m sitting, although my deer is pretty rusty and my squirrel even worse. They may well be screaming profanity at each other. I prefer to think they are exchanging pleasantries.

“How’s the family, Smitty? Everybody okay in your neck of the woods?”

“Doing fine, doing fine. Little Streak is playing acornball now. He’s a wide tail receiver. First vine.”

But I digress.

I was talking about smells, and sounds. But really, it’s the whole realm of the senses that gets activated this time of year. The smell of stinkbugs might be strong inside the cabin, but the very cold snap that draws these insects inside also reddens the leaves on the maples and sycamores, burnishes the oaks and poplars. The sound of the rain on the tin roof is punctuated by the rat tat tat of the acorns it brings down, and that same rain draws out of the earth that indescribable smell of wet fall forest.

It’s all connected really, and that’s something I tend to forget when I’m in town. Not so much because the smells of town are different. They are, but it’s a small town. It’s not like I’m inhaling thick exhaust and the odor of thousands of humans packed tightly together.

No, it’s more that when I’m in town my focus is split so many different ways that it’s hard for me to comprehend the world around me as a whole. When the dog was skunked the only reason I focused on anything besides the smell was my fear that the skunk had somehow managed to trap itself under the deck. Once I’d created an escape for it my total focus returned to the smell, and getting rid of it as quickly as possible.

You may feel that makes sense for the smell of skunk, and I suppose it does. But there’s a ripe quince sitting on my desk.
I noticed it the other day as I was walking to the car, and it appears to be from my beautiful flaming quince. Until that moment the sight of those deep coral flowers in spring had never translated to the bright scent of that wrinkled yellow fruit in fall. I can’t help but think I’d have made the connection more quickly up here on the mountain.

Then again, perhaps not. Up here on the mountain is where I watched my almond tree fruit for two years, marveling at how similar in size and shape the fruit was to that of a peach, before my wife pointed out to me that the fruit that so resembled a peach also smelled and indeed tasted like one. It was shortly after that that I realized that my non-flowering and fruiting pear trees were probably actually poplars and wrote a nasty note to the catalog company I’d purchased them all from years before.

Another digression. Perhaps this blog is really about digression and I just haven’t realized it yet.But I think it’s really about how we react to, and act upon, our sensory input. I’ve noticed that I’m happening upon more new things lately. Some of them, like fall flowers and the yard signs advertising local and state elections, are a product of this particular season. Some of them, like the quince, the hunting paths full of bolete mushrooms, and my quasi-fruit and nut trees have been right in front of me, although for some reason out of the range of my senses until now.


I wrote the section above two weeks ago when I was last up at the cabin. I assumed I’d finish it up when I got home. I stopped there mostly because I wasn’t sure where I was going, as is often the case with these musings.

 Usually I can look at something the next day, or at most a few days later and make the connections that my mind refused to make until then.But lately it seems the only time my mind is interested in musing at all is up here at the cabin. As I write this the sky is graying from black and the tops of the mountains are just coming into view. The leaves have been falling in earnest these past few weeks and through the gaps in the trees the outlines of the mountains become clearer, more distinct. During the summer you know you are surrounded, but it’s more feeling than actual. As the trees grow bare the feeling of being enclosed inside a bowl of mountain strengthens.

The smell is different, too, from the last time I was here. Skunk replaced by stinkbug, and now stinkbug by the indescribable perfume of a blanket of leaves on the earth. Smell seems richer up here, more pure. Not more pure than skunk, perhaps, but the smell of leaves  up here isn’t interrupted by car exhaust, or the left over perfume of trash day, or cigarette smoke from the alley or any one of those hundreds of transitory little scents  making up the layered atmosphere of town.

In these two weeks the colors have morphed from yellow-tinged green
into a full fiery display. I’ve got a 270° view from this porch, the close up of an orange and lime green maple and the long-range of the yellows and reds of sycamore, poplar, oak and hickory.
There are beautiful trees in our neighborhood in town, one of them right in our yard. But you have to be standing in just the right place to see them. 

Maybe it’s just that discovery is easier up here in the mountains, at least for me. Perhaps I need purity and intensity in order to be able to see and hear and smell. It’s possible I have to separate myself from others, from town, to be able to notice what’s all around me.

And maybe, as usual, I’m overthinking this. I’m here now, surrounded by flaming colors and deep, rich smells. I can hear the stuttering motor sound of a ruffed grouse punctuated by the rifle shot of an acorn hitting the tin roof, feel the cool of an autumn morning on my skin.  Maybe, just maybe, that’s good enough. Or, as my friend Carolyn would say- it’s fine. It’s just fine.

And it is.