Scents and Snowdrops

As I thought about my blog post for this month, my impulse was to sidestep the current tragic crisis.  I could only imagine that what I might say would be trite, preachy or “Pollyanna”. Then I began to retrieve a distant memory of a poem about snowdrops.  To my regret I have committed little poetry to heart, so this was a dim recollection.  In the poem of my mind, the delicate, frail, pretty snowdrop is characterized as persistent, courageous, with a blunt “head” that resists darkness and seeks the light. I checked Wordsworth’s famous poem about snowdrops but found it failed to resonate with me.  In my search, however, I found a snowdrops poem by Louise Gluck that I felt impelled to share.  In these difficult times we read it with a poignancy the poet could not have imagined.


Do you know what I was, how I lived?  You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.


Our extractor fan has led an intermittent life in its short existence,  either roaring with a ferocity that we fear will suck up the cat, or foregoing its responsibilities in a solitary sputter.  In one of its recent hibernations, I worried that the  scent of wet cabbage  and poached salmon would forever perfume our dine-in kitchen and seep through the interstices of our home.  In response, I flung open all the doors and windows and  watched as clouds of green pollen billowed inside, coating every surface, including the bronchioles of Chris’ lungs, thus temporarily choking his beautiful singing voice.  The excitement over, the house purged, and Chris singing up a storm, I began to muse about smells or, as I more politely titled this post, “scents”.

It seems to me, there are three olfactory categories:  unbelievably foul,  marvelous, and those that can go either way. Anyone who’s had a toilet overflow knows about rotten smells.  After hurricane  Katrina, I helped out in New Orleans. There were many unsavory tasks like chipping out moldy tiles, but worst by far was emptying the fridges and freezers of their putrid food.

The in-between category is interesting.  Geraniums and certain lilies have a musky smell that can be simultaneously appealing and unpleasant.  I like the aroma of mulch and new-mown hay, rubber,  paint,  new carpet  and Play-Doh – in small doses.  We’ve had enticing cheeses and the kind you toss out of the window.  Farmyard smells are in the nose of the inhaler, overpowering to many of us, but the scent of home to agricultural workers.

It’s easiest, of course , to think of the pleasing scents; freesias adorning my mother’s and my own wedding bouquet, scrunched buds of lavender, evening honeysuckle,  lilac and pine carried by a breeze. The zest of fresh herbs and spices tickle the nostrils   Some of us relish industrial smells – anything to do with steam engines, melting tarmac, or the chemical odor of  dry cleaning.   Yet inevitably, most of all, we salivate for cooking smells.  Among my favorites are Indian food,  roast chicken and bacon!

What are yours?  Savor them in sorrow and in joy.

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