“The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.” ~ Rudyard Kipling
Scent is one of the most powerful ways to escape, to be transported from one place or time to another. It has a “beam me up” quality. It can be instantaneous. Memories linger from a single odor. Here are three of my favorites:
In the Ecuadorian sierra…
When I go to the library or grocery store or post office, especially in late afternoon, and pass by a particular restaurant not far from home, I suddenly smell Ecuador. No, it’s not about food — exactly. It’s all about the wood fire at the local steakhouse. I roll down the windows to get a whiff of the sweet, smoky scent of burning logs and I’m back in the Andes, going to sleep beneath soft alpaca blankets in front of a smoldering fire. Years ago, we stayed in a monastery on the grounds of a centuries-old hacienda, and every night after dinner the fire was lit in our room. Candles flickered on the mantel. Shadows danced around the adobe walls. Nights there were dark and silent and peaceful.
Now, when I’m rushing along this city street with a head full of “to do” lists and not enough time to do them, and I find myself suddenly halted by that familiar scent, I roll down the windows, take a deep breath, and hold onto the moment.
In Mexico’s bajio…
I have a jasmine plant that goes crazy on my back deck in the summer, sending out new shoots in every direction, and producing tiny white flowers with an overpowering scent. I drink my morning tea on the back deck and remember drinking my morning tea in the garden of a little casita in Mexico. Same scent in the air, different tea in the cup. Here my tea leaves come all the way from India or China or Sri Lanka. In Mexico they came from the lime tree in the garden outside my window.
On the Tortuguero River…
The scent of wet earth that hangs in the air after watering the tropical plants in winter or sitting outside after a summer rain always takes me back to Costa Rica, to a little village in the rainforest along the Caribbean coast. The powerful night rains are spectacular on this tiny finger of land, a sandbar, situated between the Tortuguero River and the Caribbean Sea. The ground here never gets dry enough for that wet-earth scent to go away. I can’t water a flower without being reminded of those times, of the sound of rain on a tin roof and the way that scent came through the open windows and filled up the little hut in the jungle.
The memories stirred for me with the scent of a wood fire or a jasmine flower or the earth after a rainfall cannot compete with Proust’s sheer volumes of memories after tasting a morsel of a Madeleine soaked in a teaspoon of tea, but they are delicious all the same.
What about you? Can a scent send you traveling through time?
See info here for –
Hacienda Cusin, located near Otavalo, Ecuador
Mawamba Lodge, located in Tortuguero, Costa Rica
San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico
Posted in Costa Rica, Ecotourism, Ecuador, flower gardens, Guanajuato, Latin America, Mexico, Nature, Photography, Rainforest, San Miguel de Allende, Tea, travel, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: Costa Rica, Ecuador, Hacienda Cusin, Mawamba Lodge, Mexico, Otavalo, Photography, San Miguel de Allende, Tortuguero National Park, travel, Writing
when you start fixing stuff!
The house trim needed painting. Just the trim. Three-day job max. The painters would be in and out. Snap fingers and, like magic, everything would look spiffy.
Well, not so fast…
There was rotting wood around several windows. A woodpecker had drilled a big hole in the front porch with a series of smaller holes trailing below it. Beneath the holly bushes, at the base of one of the columns, a chipmunk had built and nicely furnished a spacious condo. And then, of course, there was the matter of stopping up entrances and exits that the bees had so diligently excavated.
Finally, the power washing to clean everything before getting painted caused the front door to swell so badly it could not be opened. Once pried open, it couldn’t be closed. So there was a lot of wood shaving and hammering and resetting locks and then a bunch of bodies pushing against it. There may have even been a kick or two when I wasn’t in the room. Sounded like it. But…success! Of a sort. Now we’re afraid to open the front door. A new one has been added to the “to do” list, which gains momentum every day.
And this is only the front of the house; the painters haven’t even made it to the back! The three-day job has now lasted more than a week. But they’ll be here bright and early tomorrow morning eager to see what new discoveries await.
Meanwhile, I’ve been trying really hard to escape it all — working on the back porch amongst the flowers, watching the hummingbirds come and go. The downside? They’ll be heading to the back yard tomorrow, invading my space. Wish I could come and go in a blink like the hummers.
Two boomers. Men. One with a tall latte. One with cafe au lait. Boomer A is dressed in black sweats and flip flops. Wire-rimmed specs. B’s wearing a red IZOD shirt. Polished loafers, no socks. Robert Redford hair.
From the other side of the cafe, you would guess they’re having an intellectual discussion. World affairs, perhaps. A likes to gesture a lot. B leans over the table, appears to be listening intently.
Dogs. That’s what they’re discussing. The incredible ability of dogs to smell stuff, their noses being 900 times more powerful than the human nose.
Boomer A walks his dogs every morning, but he can’t get much exercise because they stop every few feet to sniff.
“They know other dogs in the neighborhood,” says A. “They can tell who’s peed in a particular spot.”
“Really?” says B.
“If some dog is not feeling well, they can tell that, too.”
“It’s like me reading the paper every morning,” says A. “The walk, I mean.”
B squirms a little in his chair. “How so?”
“Every yard and street corner is different. A different section, if you will. The park. That’s different, too.”
B stares into his cup. Uses the mini spoon to scoop foam from around the rim. The barista has decorated his latte with a floating foam heart that he’s said is “too pretty to drink.”
(This is what I want to know: what on earth is the connection between the dogs taking a walk and this man reading his newspaper?)
A continues. “Take this big corner lot at the end of my block. Has two soccer goals in the front yard. We call that the sports section.”
“I do. The dogs. We call that yard the sports section. You know, like I said, their morning walk is like me reading the newspaper. Different sections and all that. Routine.”
“Okayyy,” says B.
(Analogies. Finger is to hand as petal is to flower. Poet is to poem as baker is to pie. A dog lifting its leg on a soccer goal is like a man reading the sports section…nay.)
A young woman jogs by the window. Hot pink top. Black shorts. Pony tail swinging side to side. A dalmatian running alongside her.
“Now that’s what you ought to do,” says B. “Run with those dogs and they won’t have time to stop and sniff.”
Somewhere in the world, all over the world, people are making big decisions, life-altering decisions. But not here. Not today.
It’s recycle day in my neighborhood. Every Friday — newspapers, cans, glass, cardboard, plastic. The sound of the back-up beeper on the trash truck got me to thinking. In eastern Kentucky I grew up recycling before recycling became the thing to do. A purpose could be found for almost every bottle and tin can and box headed to the trash. Recycling came naturally in Appalachia. It still does to me.
1) I wore hand-me-down clothes, and the ones that served me well and still looked good got handed down again. My mom hemmed and let out hems, added new elastic to waistbands, turned skirts into aprons. We also kept pigs and cows and the animal feed came in huge, colorful fabric sacks, which she turned into dresses for me once they were emptied. One year I had a lovely, full-skirted Easter dress that was white with tiny blue flowers. The downside? The same as it is for young girls today — there’s always someone with the same dress.
2) For a time in her teens my sister sold mail-order clothes to make extra money. Every few weeks she received a package in the mail containing a new stack of 8 1/2 by 11 glossy sheets of paper with pictures of dresses and skirts and suits. Each sample had a small swatch of fabric to go along with the picture. Old sheets became paper dolls or drawing/writing paper for me. The tiny swatches of fabric found their way into my mom’s quilts. When I was in bed with pneumonia once for several days I was mesmerized by a single square amongst a multitude of others against a bright blue background — a two-inch tall ballerina en pointe with one leg forever in the air.
3) In my parents’ store we sold carbide to coal miners who used it to light the lamps on the hats they wore underground. The carbide came in huge purple cans that had a number of recyclable possibilities. We rolled the cans on their sides and “walked” on them (sort of like the dogs that walk on those big balls in circus acts). Carbide cans had rings of “ridges” top to bottom that made it easy to grasp the slippery metal with our feet. Grownups turned the cans into extra seats or used them as bases for makeshift tables on which to play checkers in the back of the store.
In many places I’ve traveled over the years I’ve discovered that people, especially those lacking in luxury, can be quite creative in giving a second life to old objects.
4) In her home outside Otavalo, Ecuador, Ludmila spins yarn using a recycled bicycle wheel.
5) The village of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica lies on a finger of land in the rainforest between the Tortuguero River and the sea. The only way to get here is by boat or small plane that lands on a dirt airstrip alongside the beach. There are no roads, no cars, in the village. So, it was amusing to see the beautiful recycled car tires used as hanging planters.
Ahhh…memories. The best way to recycle life experiences!
“Gardeners always recognize one another, because they know that in the history of each plant lies the growth of the whole world.”
~ Paulo Coelho, Brida
Ahhh…as long as there are blooms, summer is still here!
Is this really August? I love working outside during the day and raising windows at night to the chorus of tree frogs and jar flies. I don’t recall this time of year ever being so cool and breezy. I do recall, however, the oppressive heat of late summer– other times, other places.
I remember Venice…on a hot August night.
Music was playing in the distance, drifting across the water. A floating band had gathered somewhere on the Grand Canal for an evening performance, and we slipped into the closest gondola and headed off for a romantic evening beneath a starry Venetian sky. We were twenty-somethings; the world still felt new.
At first we thought the gondolier was just an unusually happy fellow, but we soon realized this was not the case. He was drunk. He danced in place and played with the oar. He rocked the boat, tipping it way too far from side to side. I looked up at the dark sky, down at the dark water. I couldn’t swim.
I grew up in the hills of Kentucky and the few times I had gone to a swimming pool I’d stayed in the shallow end where I could keep my feet on solid ground. At the river I played near the bank. At the lake with friends I lathered my arms and legs with quick tanning lotion and stretched out in the sun. I didn’t do water. A few years later, when I was working at a university in Washington, D.C., I would take swim lessons for the first time and finally hold my head under water without panicking. But that night in Venice the frightening vision of falling overboard wouldn’t stop playing in my mind.
The floating concert was crowded. Lots of gondolas squeezed in around a larger boatload of musicians. We were happy to take a “seat” in the back, but our gondolier insisted on getting us to the front row. I braced myself by holding on to both sides of the boat. At least there were hordes of people around to help if we turned over. We didn’t. The gondolier called out to his “amici,” who didn’t look pleased at all but probably didn’t want a scene, and they allowed him to shove our boat between the smallest spaces, banging against one gondola after another as he bullied his way through the crowd. When we got to the front I looked around at the other faces and felt embarrassed. I wanted to enjoy the music and the picture-perfect setting, but I was not happy until the last note was played and I could step out of that boat onto solid ground.
It was late when I opened the thick wooden shutters in our hotel room and sat in the window. Boats still passed in the canal below with their oars swishing through the water and people laughing, enjoying their special moments beneath a sky full of stars. Violins played softly in the distance. I finally had the perfect seat.
I have four things from Venice — an album of faded photographs (remember the Instamatic?), a stack of pretty postcards, a Venetian glass necklace, and a whole bunch of memories. What else could anyone need?
When I was growing up I was a sucker for advertisements — the flashier and more unbelievable, the better. I always went through the Sunday paper and checked out the deals in Parade magazine.
One Sunday in the sixties, the Doubleday One-dollar Book Club was offering five books for five dollars. How could this be? They were brand new hardcovers, too. How could a twelve-year-old reader with five dollars in the piggy bank possibly turn down this offer?
This was not the first time I drained the “piggy bank” for a really good deal or cause or adventure and it would not be the last. It may sound like I’m an impulsive person, but I’m not. Every time I’ve broken into the pig I have thought long and hard beforehand about the decision I was making with my heart, especially when my head was flashing the yellow light. I do not regret any of those choices. But I have learned some lessons.
On that day in the sixties I did not read the fine print. If they wanted people to read it, why did they write it so small?
I ordered the five books. I actually ended up with extras as one thick tome held three novels by Edna Ferber. I also selected The Life of Christ by Fulton J. Sheen, The Judas Tree by A.J. Cronin, a book titled Women and Fatigue, and a marvelous book of photos — Around the World in 2,000 Pictures. I didn’t choose any children’s books. I was twelve, for goodness sake!
I loved Ferber’s descriptions of place in Showboat, So Big, and Cimarron. All tales so vivid I was inspired to write my own stories set in the west. I did this a lot — read a book or saw a movie and then wrote with an obsession about places I’d never been. Not the best approach to writing, but the girls at my study hall table enjoyed the daily installments and making up stories was more fun than doing homework.
In The Life of Christ I read that the author was Catholic, a rarity in our neck of the woods. We were sometimes Baptist, sometimes Pentacostal. We went to both churches at various times and there was much discussion about whether or not a person could be “once in grace, always in grace” as the Baptists believed or if the Pentacostals were right in saying that one could backslide a zillion times and still get to Heaven. Sheen’s book added yet another view to the mix. I would later attend a Methodist college, be married by an Episcopal priest in a non-denominational ceremony, and join the Presbyterian church. I would then make Buddist, Hindi, Jewish, and Muslim friends and make a point of searching out the similarities.
I didn’t understand much that I read in Women and Fatigue and the book didn’t hold my interest. To be honest, I probably didn’t even know what the word “fatigue” meant until I bought the book. People in Appalachia often spoke of being tired, worn out, even worked to death, but I had never heard anyone say they were fatigued. I was young, excited, and energetic and I found this book exhausting to read.
My favorite book of the lot was Around the World in 2,000 Pictures. I roamed the world for hours at a time. Daydreaming. Traveling vicariously to faraway places. Making plans. Someday!
But it was The Judas Tree that brought a more immediate change in my life, bouncing me right out of childhood and into adolescence. After reading about Mary and David making love in the bracken amongst the heather flowers I was not the same person. This was the first “sex” scene I’d ever read. Back then there was no sex education in the schools and the subject was not discussed at home. Girls my age giggled about teenagers making out. Tales were told, stories overheard, about wild girls. No details provided. We had to “read between the lines,” which made it all sound dirty and/or dangerous. Until The Judas Tree. I marked passages, dogeared corners, read and re-read “the page” where the birds sang and the bees hummed in the background. It all sounded pretty and natural. Well then…
Back to the book club. The month after I’d received the five books for five dollars from the Doubleday One Dollar Book Club I was surprised to see another book arrive out of the blue. A bill arrived, too.
It seems the fine print had stated the five books for a dollar each was just an “introductory offer” that committed the person to buying one book each month at the regular price. For a whole year! I had used all my piggy bank money on the first five and could not afford the much higher-priced books that were offered each month.
More books and more bills followed. Eventually, letters from a collection agency came. I stopped opening the packages. I threw away the letters.
After several months, the books stopped coming in the mail. The bills finally stopped, too, as did the letters. I was relieved.
I kept all of the books on a shelf in my room and felt guilty when I looked at the freebies. I should have read the fine print.
And yet, decades later, I still have The Judas Tree on a bookshelf in my study. Every now and then I pick it up to read the scene in the bracken and the heather and recall how the first reading changed my childhood, broadened my world, and gave me a different glimpse of life. Not a bad way for a kid to be introduced to the beauty that was possible behind the stuff that was talked about only in whispers.
I don’t know what happened to Around the World in 2,000 Pictures. But it doesn’t matter. The photos that filled that book were tiny. They were all in black and white. I’ve now taken my own color pictures of many of those marvelous places I dreamed about as a child.
Ospreys and gulls and egrets; sandpipers, herons, and terns…
Every year we check out our two favorite osprey nest sites when we go to the Delaware shore. This year on the Salt Pond one of the nests held two young birds. We didn’t see any activity at the second nest, but it was too far away to determine without binoculars, which I’d forgotten at home. I was in for an extra treat, however, when my friend Helen took us to see this nest in a nearby neighborhood.
Not a great spot if the weather turns cold early and the occupants in the house want to build a fire in the fireplace. Osprey nests can be 3-6 feet in diameter and deep enough to hold a person. Someone is going to have a big clean-up job to do once the babies leave the nest.
Every day on our way to the beach and back the gulls patrolled the shoreline. This one had a bird’s eye view from his perch on the fence post, and it looked as if he was enjoying doing a little people watching. He must wonder why humans coming to the beach need to bring a plethora of colorful stuff with them — umbrellas and chairs and coolers and bags. We sit for awhile and then walk the beach or go in the water or head to the snack shop or to the restroom or back to the car for something forgotten. And then we fold it and bag it and pack it all up again at the end of the day.
Every spring the Delaware Bay is the site of an incredible bird exhibition that isn’t seen anywhere else in the world. The Bay is a major rest stop for hundreds of thousands of migratory shorebirds that have left their winter homes in the southern climes — some from as far south as Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America — and are enroute to their Canadian Arctic nesting grounds.
The Eastern Shore is merely a food stop. The Delaware Bay’s beaches are the site of the largest horseshoe crab spawning in the world and these crab eggs provide the nutrients the birds need to fly nonstop every spring to the Arctic. Over a lifetime the sandpipers, specifically the tiny red knots, can fly a distance equivalent to a trip to the moon and back. And they can eat a lot of crab eggs — as many as 25,000 eggs per bird each day! (According to Smithsonian Magazine, this is like a person eating 700 chicken eggs in 24 hours.)
The number of birds stopping over, however, has been declining the past few years and a project has been initiated to help protect the health and habitat of migratory birds. Check out the Delaware Shorebird Project for more information and volunteer opportunities.
Posted in Animals, Bethany Beach, birdwatching, Delaware, Nature, Photography, Uncategorized | Tags: Bird Migration, birds, birdwatching, Delaware Bay, Delaware Seashore, Delaware Shorebird Project, Fenwick Island State Park, Horseshoe Crabs, Osprey nests, Photography, Red Knots, Seagulls
I’m walking the halls of my high school.
I stop at my locker to get my books, but I can’t recall the combination to the lock.
Or I need to make a phone call, but I can’t remember the number.
Of course, in these dreams, I’m always back in the time before cellphones,
in a time when you had to memorize numbers,
when there were no “contact lists” that could be transferred from one phone to the next.
I have never tried to interpret these dreams.
What does it matter?
I forget birthdates
and the ages of family and friends.
Perhaps it’s okay to forget ages.
I used to complain about having to memorize numbers in school — important dates
in history, for example. What did it matter?
Does one really need to know when Jamestown was settled?
Or when the Declaration of Independence was signed?
Or that the Civil War started almost 100 years after the American Revolution?
I think it matters.
Perhaps one doesn’t really need to know the exact date the first movie was played
or construction was begun on the Panama Canal,
or when the Titanic sank.
But it’s kinda good to know that these things happened in the beginning of the 20th century.
I think it matters.
One good thing about getting older/more mature is this: you discover why things like numbers matter.
Some numbers; not all.
For all the numbers I have forgotten, I do remember a whole bunch of useless ones.
Our family’s first telephone number was 619X and my best friend’s number was 604X.
Easy to remember because we had to give the number to the operator each time we made a call.
Speaking, hearing your own voice, enhances learning. You see it, say it, hear it.
Memorizing a speech? Learning a foreign language?
Read it aloud. Talk to yourself.
Words are good.
I was never a numbers person.
I like the way words can dance and sing and reveal new worlds.
Sometimes I recite the grocery list when I’m driving.
Bread, eggs, apples, dessert.
I create words — real words and fake ones.
That’s all I have to remember. “Bead” is my grocery list.
For long lists, a handful of words can sometimes make an interesting sentence.
Numbers can’t do that!
- About Me
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- Cayman Islands
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- Children's Books
- Coffee Shops
- Costa Rica
- Endangered species
- flower gardens
- Folk Art
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- New Year's Resolutions
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- News and Reviews
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- Science trivia
- To Come and Go Like Magic
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