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To Breathe with a Forest
A short reflection on the early aromas of spring — in collaboration with Seven Senses here on Substack.
The ever creative Sabrina Y. Smith of Kensho Studio asked me to write a reflection on smell for her Substack called — a journey each full moon among and beyond awareness and perception. As a biologist, I don’t smell the world enough; sight and sound tend to be my primary senses in nature, which is why I accepted Sabrina’s assignment. Plus, this short dispatch may be as close as I get to writing poetry (which probably isn’t very close at all). In other news, I’ve posted Lecture 4: Macrophotography to our Practical Nature Photography Seminar Classroom. Onward.
THE PROMISE OF SPRING is the breathing of dirt. In the naked woods of home, before the eruption of wildflowers and warblers, before the carnal meets the vernal, soil sends forth the aromas of a new season.
Here in Vermont, where we enjoy more than four seasons, it is mud season. Our dirt roads, rutted and soft, can seize your truck to its axels. But in the woods it is a season of mud giving, of leaf litter nourishing, of trees pledging — a forest releasing all that it held in trust through winter.
There is no revelatory smell to this release. Not like the sweet signature of honeysuckle or the aromatic summons of balsam poplar. They will come later. Now instead we inhale a vague fusion of mud and dew, of wind and warmth.
Maybe it’s simply that there now exists any smell at all in these woods — new to our nostrils after a winter of crisp, vacant air. So I sit on a fallen ash, close my eyes, breathe with the forest, try to parse its scents.
And yet I recognize that the smell of this place is greater than the sum of its fragrances. Greater than me. It is the aroma of harmony, of a forest community, and an expression of a new season. It is the sense that I belong in these breathing woods — and that I belong to these breathing woods.