Summer’s Sweetest Scent

I sense it the moment they open.  The air is instantly different.  Heavier with fragrance, yet lighter and warmer with summer’s sweetest scent.   It is as if the world has stopped.  And I am encapsulated within a gossamer cocoon, spun of the perfume of tiny yellow blooms peeking out shyly from among the silvery green leaves of its tree.

You cannot even see them, until looking close.  Close enough to notice their bright yellow eyes, their sweet scent almost visibly aloft in pale waves upon the summer’s evening air, proclaiming dreamily that summer is here.

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I’d love to bottle their sensory beauty, corking it carefully airtight, and displaying it reverently upon a shelf.  But it wouldn’t be enough to just look at it.  I wouldn’t be able to resist its summery magnetism, opening it slowly with its soft scent taking me back to June, no matter the month.

One summer evening years ago, as they were just beginning to unfurl their fragrant blooms, I thought there could be nothing more perfect than cutting a few branches to put in a vase in my house.  I imagined their perfume lightly scenting my entire house, waking me in the mornings with their sheer, veiled aura.  But after only a few hours, their scent had fermented into something hotly putrid and overpowering.  I’m not sure if it was their anger at being cut from their mother trees or the extremely close proximity, but I quickly realized that some things are better left unrestrained, wild and floating freely on the hint of a summer breeze.  That they just cannot be bridled and harnessed into a vase indoors.  They must be aloft upon the breeze, their yellow scented pollen riding happily to destinations unknown.  Their strong scent diluted with the warmth of the air, moving and swirling their fragrance here, there and everywhere.

Of all the many scents in the world, I know it is my favorite. It is memories of small towns in summer, of tall grass growing green in the hay fields, swaying with the breeze like a loosely-threaded tide.   It is memories of summer concerts, the music rising and mingling with their perfume upon the still summer air.  Of barbecued ribs, and warm evenings not yet disturbed by the hum of mosquitos, serenaded with its sweet scent upon the dusk.  It is the feeling of night’s coolness slowly filtering across our little valley from the wet rushing of the river, dampening the grass and the day’s memories with dew.  And in the morning, its perfume rises again, lifted from its tiny yellow petals to be wafted upon the light air for another day.

How I wish it lasted all summer, this perfect essence of fragrance.  Ushering us into and out of summertime, like a graceful doorman, visible with the first opening of the glass door to summertime, but almost unnoticeable the remainder of the summer with his well-trained etiquette and quiet existence.  Eventually they would escort us out of summer without even a goodbye, only the faint fading of their scented beauty growing slighter and slighter, until we no longer even miss their presence.

Alas, we are blessed with but a week of heaven in June.  Maybe that makes its arrival all the sweeter, and its exit all the more lonely in its abrupt end.  Its short-lived aromatic culmination something relegated to just memory again for another year

So as the lovely season of the fragrant Russian Olives draws to an end, may you find the time to be still, soaking up the most of what comes around just once a season.  May you enjoy the sweet scent of summertime upon the warm breeze and may you relish the many blessings summer brings.

*As a footnote, I feel I must tell you that the Russian Olive tree is an outlaw.  It is a foreign species that gained notoriety for its overtaking of western river banks since it was introduced to the US in the late 1800’s.  But in its defense, it is without a doubt, a scrappy survivor.  With shoots of sharply-thorned branches hurtling forth from its trunk almost daily, it doesn’t mourn for the weak.   Their roots ground them in odd places, unfit for other trees.  They thrive in sand and poor soil, reaching deeper and deeper for water and nutrients. And according to multiple sources, their roots can produce their own nitrogen, allowing them to grow even in nutrient-deprived soil.  They have a bad habit of out competing our native trees and shrubs in wild areas and they enlist the help of our feathered friends, who gorge upon the tree’s ripened berries, to disperse their seeds.  The Russian Olive is currently classified as an invasive species in Colorado and 29 other states.  For this reason,Colorado banned the sale of Russian Olive trees within the state to its residents in 2002.

When All That Remains is a Memory

Memorial Day weekend.  I expected the tributes to our troops, both current and past, and the deep thankfulness that you cannot help but feel for our hard-earned freedom.  Red, white and blue flags flying, headstones marked with crosses, flowers and tears.  What I didn’t expect, was to find myself contemplating memories on death, loss and the hand-picked timing of certain moments in life.  I found myself grieving, quieted by a once-familiar place, now darkened with long lasting scars, and only the stark skeletons of what once was.

I guess I hadn’t been there since the fire.

Photo courtesy of Drew Smith via www.panoramio.com

Trapper’s Lake and the dirt county road leading to it was a place we frequented growing up.  Pulling a cream and green “Wilderness” camper, loaded down with fishing poles, a hibachi barbecuer, Shasta Cream Soda and large amounts of excitement, our family would find ourselves heading up to go camping almost all summer long.  The little county road seemed to go on forever then, clouds of dry dust following us the last part of the way, surrounded on both sides by mountains, pine trees, quaking aspens and the rare  glimpse of a shimmering, snow-fed creek.

Our weekends were spent hiking under the canopy of pine forests, being swallowed by the sweet scent of pine trees in bloom and fishing in excruciatingly cold, clear volcanic-formed lakes.  We loved this beautiful place that was right in our back yard.

I guess that’s why I found myself grieving so palpably over the weekend.

Photo courtesy of Drew Smith via Panoramio.com

I had no idea that the wildfire that took place nearly ten years ago, would still have as fresh a scar on the land, as if it had just happened a few years ago.  The mountains looked scraped bare, with only dry dirt there where the beautiful pines once stood, where spring rains and winter runoff would have fed the once-dense green brush and undergrowth.  All that remained were skeletons.  Sharp ghosts swaying with the cold wind, hundreds, thousands of other skeletons fallen in shards at their feet in a nasty, tangled mess of a larger-than-life game of Pick-up-Sticks.

Instead of the breeze singing through soft needled branches, the wind screeched and hissed now, whistling through their gnarled bones and around this ghost town of dead trees, their burned forms standing as tombstones for the fallen, now only a memory.

Ten years after the Big Fish fire near Trapper’s Lake

I was out of college, living two hundred miles away, when I first read their words.  A Letter to the Editor published in our little Rio Blanco Herald Times, that would never let me forget.  That would, from that day forward, always cause me to think upon timing, upon moments, and upon God’s big plan.

Dear Editor,

What a sense of loss and despair.  Trappers Lake is a very special place to a lot of people, for a lot of reasons.  While living in the Yampa Valley my family got to know Trappers Lake, to know the meaning of what a special place does to one’s soul.

We moved to Texas seven years ago and my son always asked if we could return to Trappers Lake some day.  I told him “sure and we’ll go there many times together.”  My son died last summer at the age of 21.

My wife and I brought his ashes back to Trappers Lake this summer.   It is his favorite place on Earth and that’s where he should be.

We stayed at Trappers Lake Lodge Resort on this recent trip and made reservations for our return next summer.  Years past we had camped in the campgrounds but enjoyed this stay at the lodge.  Our mind set was not focused on the camping experiences we normally enjoy, rather the personal emotions and continued feeling of loss with our son’s passing.

The experience of placing a loved one into the environment they so love the most for eternal rest is comforting but yet so difficult.  You go through the grieving all over again but it is the same grieving you never stopped experiencing.  The sense of loss is tremendous but you know you are doing the right thing.  With that comes some sense of acceptance.

Our last night at Trappers Lake Lodge Resort was fraught with many sudden awakenings from the lightning and heavy rains.  It was quite eventful that night and we were glad to see some rains returning to the high country.  We got up very early that morning, went down to our canoe on the lake for a short paddle and wet a few flies.  We marveled at the rain-cleared sky, no longer saturated with the Lost Lake fire smoke.  The reflection of the Amphitheater on a still glass lake surface left no doubt our Creator has a plan. 

It mattered not the fish would not rise to our imitations, we were in the presence of an awesome experience and were touched deep in our souls.  One day too we both will return to be with our son in this awesome place crafted by the hand of God.  My wife and I said our last goodbyes to our son and departed this special placed called Trappers Lake.

As we left the lodge we got only a short distance down the road when we saw the smoke from a new fire.  It was nothing large, looked like the smoke billowing from a cabin chimney on an autumn day.  That was Big Fish Canyon and that was Saturday morning the 20th of July.  The morning after the birth of this fire.  How could we know what was to come?  How could we anticipate what we read and hear now about this place so distant yet so close to our hearts?  How could we imagine the destruction to the buildings we had only just left?

We couldn’t, just as we could never have thought we would ever experience the great loss of a child, a son, a friend and companion in all life’s experiences.  What a sense of loss and despair we feel and share with you.

Richard and Cindy Scott

From the Rio Blanco Herald Times, August 29th, 2002

I don’t know them.  But I hope one day to tell them what a profound effect their Letter to the Editor in our local newspaper had on me.  Now, even ten years later, I cannot read their beautifully thought-out words without feeling my chest tighten and my eyes blur with tears.

Photo courtesy of Drew Smith via Panoramio.com

They experienced not only the loss of their son, but then the terrible loss of this place that held so many happy memories.  A place held dear with memories surely of laughter, gentle lapping lake water, cutthroats with their bold red markings darting in the dark shadows of the creek, cool nighttime falling quickly under the shadows of the mountains, the fresh, crisp forest air of evening, and the immense blanket of a million glimmering stars just overhead, feeling close enough to reach out and touch.

I knew about the fire all those years ago, but I hadn’t “felt” it.  I had read about it, I had heard about it, but I hadn’t yet seen it with my own eyes.  And now, all these years later, I finally felt my heart heavy with grief for a place so special, so beautiful.

And this Memorial Day, I remembered the great loss that these strangers felt and must still feel for their son.   God’s hand holding them as He brought them back to this place one last time, only Him knowing that just days after they spent their last night there, it too would be gone, smoldering with only the memory of what once stood.