Red Rock Country

 If you breathe deeply when you are in red rock country, you can smell geology. The smell of millennia, of ages old. The smell of dust and bones and the span of wing tips over boulders red as hunger, heavy as memory.


You don't hold your breath among all that sandstone, that sage and pine and sycamore. You breathe your own life into it and remember a time before and your remembering sets cottonwood leaves atremble and lifts through the clear air to blue sky. 


That sky is how the name turquoise came to be. This is what they called azure. It is lapis at mid-afternoon and sapphire near evening, before the lavender, the orange sherbet, the magenta so deep it has a sound.


You hear big cats growling and imagine bears in caves where there are none. The hissing of snakes, the translucent skin of scorpion. It is your longing for something you once knew.
You gather fallen leaves, thread brown pine needles in your hair, stow broken rocks like dried scabs in your pocket and search for signs of recognition.


"Do you feel home here?" you ask your sisters. "Yes, yes," one says. The other is gazing at blocks of red rock, stacked as if by a god who lives close to the ground, whose blood is clear rivers, whose heart you beat when you walk upon it. 


Your sister is imagining building her own red clay walls. She will line them with quartz, she says. She is talking to God.

- Judy Reeves

Loves Me All the Time

A sailboat slides by on the bay. The smell of oily Sea and Ski suntan lotion fills the air. It’s a hot summer day and the Kona Kai Club bustles with adults, teens and tots. I’m in trouble. My brother hit me and I had to chase him around the pool and my dad yelled at me to sit down. I knew running was against the rules, but I couldn’t help it. I cried and said I wanted to go home but Dad said no. Now I’m glued to my towel, it’s too noisy and too hot to sleep and I just want to escape. 

My stupid brother does a cannonball into the pool and splashes me. He bobs up, sticks out his tongue and crosses his eyes. I don’t take the bait and he finally swims away. I check Dad who’s lighting a cigarette, sneak away and tiptoe along the concrete over to the deserted Children’s Pool in a shady corner. 

The sun sparkles off the turquoise circle through tall palm trees. My small feet wade down the steps to the center of the pool and I bend my knees so that the cool water comes almost up to my chin. The sharp chlorine smell tickles my nose and I know if I dunk my head under and swim around for a while my blonde hair will turn icky green again. 
I clap my hands twice and swish them through the shiny blue water. Then close my eyes and begin to sing one of my father’s favorite songs. 

Sugar in the morning. Sugar in the evening. Sugar at suppertime. 
Be my little sugar and love me all the time.

As I turn in slow circles, the metal drain massages my bare feet and my voice echoes off the edge of the pool. When he sings that song to me, I know he’s happy. If he hasn’t had too many beers and isn’t slurring his words, I believe that he really does love me all the time.

I repeat the song again and continue in circles until I hear his voice call, “Jilliebeaner, it’s time to go!” I look up and see he’s smiling at me holding my towel open and I know then the words to the song are true.

- Jill G. Hall


Scents Memory

“Those pancakes are burning! Can’t you smell them?” 

In fact I cannot, as my mate well knows. Ditto garlic sizzling in hot sesame oil, and spice cake just out of the oven. Likewise the Mexican marigolds in the garden, their foliage bruised by a tossing wind, and the cold, wet-cardboard smell of a rare rainy day. Too the cedarn atmosphere within a stand of redwoods—my favorite fragrance—and the aura of heat blowing in from the east: a Mississippi of air.

I savor these only in memory. My sense of smell faded about a decade ago, a sign (I found out later) of progressing Parkinson’s disease. It was a loss so gradual and unobtrusive that I didn’t notice until the sense was quite gone. Because they’re so closely linked, my sense of taste is crippled as well: I can detect only saltiness, sweetness, or the burn of capsaicin (which causes the heat you feel when eating chili peppers, and which I’m not even sure is a flavor). The smell and taste sensations appear to me as phantoms—brain-invented illusions without basis or cause—in the most incongruous situations. Lingering in bed in the morning, dozing and waking in short cycles, I’ll catch the salty splatter of bay water and the sinus-stinging smoke from cheap gas churning in the violent wake of the ski boat my family had when I was a teenager. Working the odorless decomposed granite that answers for soil in my vegetable plot, my mouth waters from the smell of popping corn or the taste of hot chocolate.

It’s hard not to be bitter over what I’ve lost: two-fifths of my interface with the world (though, being honest, I’d rather live without taste and smell than sight and hearing). I try to focus on and be grateful for the mechanism, whatever it is, that still allows me to relish the greasy aroma of fat rendered from browning bacon, or the sharp, astringent perfume of lavender soap, even if the former comes during a performance of act two of La Boheme and the latter while driving to the DMV to renew my license. Most of all I treasure the odd, disorienting moments when my senses suddenly return, and I breathe in the incense of the week-old garbage I’m carrying out to the bin. Seconds later, my burden is again odorless, blank as ice, and my memory book one glorious, fragrant chapter richer.

- Jim Brega


The Faint Scent Of Color


Color—all of it, all colors—has no smell except the smell of crayola wax because for me, it’s the very first time I remember pure color, a vivid color, one that I could work to my will, one that was part of my world and was something more than the phantasms of adulthood. The wax seemed to smell differently depending on the color; I mean of course it wouldn't, but somehow hot pink smelled different than burnt orange smelled different than plain purple. Or maybe, because it was always wax again, and because the colors were so pure, the wax was like a blank page, a blank screen with a blinking cursor, a photo film coated in silver waiting for an image to be exposed onto it; wax was the medium carrying the smells of memory, the smell of sharp lemon that went with the lemon crayon, the smell of rubber and dirt and grime that went with the dark greys, the smell of grape juice with the purple, the smell of flamingos, fishy and bird droppings, that went with the neon orange, the smell of fear that went with the dark browns, the dark greens, the grey brown murky colors.

Maybe the reason little kids scribble isn't because they're not aware of the lines, it's because they've got something more interesting than the lines, they've got a smell-picture in their heads, and the exact combination of colors in scribble perfectly conjurors up the smell they're thinking of.

Did I mention I used to jam crayons into the center of a box fan, to watch the wax melt into circles of blur and color? Wax and dust was the smell. Also when I was really young I used to smash crayons into the grill of the space heater, to smell the wax as it melted against the warm dust coating the inside of the heater. I wonder now why my mother would let me get away with something so messy, but I realize that she probably figured, in the grand scheme of odd things boys do to clean up after, that wasn't such a big deal. Maybe she also thought the colors were pretty, and didn't mind so much because of it. Or, maybe she too has some sacred memory of crayons, the wax trapping the scent and the memory as sure as it traps the color of the crayon. Maybe she couldn't bring herself to rebuke grade school—coloring in the flags of the world, the crayons she held in her hand, the crayon she broke when grandma cried out because the radio just announced President Kennedy had been shot, the sharp smell of wax every bit as deadly and grim as gunpowder, the plastic smell of childhood itself.

- Brian Thedell


ITCH

On our evening walks, we watch

rabbits. They never stop sniffing.

I google rabbit. Fifty million scent

cells. We have a meager six million.

 

We call to them. They come to our

voice. We toss them bite size

shredded wheat, one by one, but

mostly they don’t see. They smell.

 

A good sniff of each other is

like a chat. When rabbits shift

their noses up and down it is

called “nose blinking.”

 

Watching those tiny nose

muscles twitch makes my nose

itch. Makes my itch noisy.

Makes me want to nose blink.

- KIT CROUCHER