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.

Mourning the Fallen

The wind howled today.  In angry gusts of pent up spring temperament, it raged across the ground picking up anything and everything in its path.  Dust flew.  Sand & small rocks flew too.  Tumbleweeds shot across the sky as if propelled from within a jet engine.  I expected to see the fenceline due north of us transformed from open wire, into a virtual wall of crackly weeds, caught and pushed against each other, an abrupt end to their flights by way of a few strings of barbed wire.

As I drove home, the wind had calmed some, but its effects could be seen everywhere.  Random household objects littered the middle of our main thoroughfare.  Diapers, beer cans and shingles were strewn everywhere.  A pine tree, snapped at the base.  All that remained of its trunk were a few sharp shards sticking haphazardly out of the ground.  They pointed sharply upward as if in testimony to their glorious form that had only hours earlier reached its old branches skyward.  Now it had been quickly sawn into long sections, and laid out down the side street as if in a public viewing of its death.  There it lay. Sadly, broken and no longer intact.

I instantly mourned for that tree, its owner and the house that now had to stand alone, without its branched canopy or the gentle song of a breeze through its needles.

It took me back to a sadness I knew well.  On the verge of signing paperwork to buy my very first home out of college, I still felt myself teetering on the edge of whether to do it or not.  Then, the picture of the house in its full summer glory, shaded by a beautiful, silver maple tree in the front yard, would be plucked from the “Pros” side of my advantages v.s disadvantages mental list I had created in my mind.

I dreamed of birds nestled in its branches all summer, lightly cooing outside my window on sunny afternoons.  I dreamed of the beautiful dappled shade it would cast on my green lawn, the fluttering of leaves overhead with summer’s hot breeze.  I dreamed of its green leaves burning with autumn’s fading light, turning the tree into a bold, yellow burst of fall color.  I dreamed even of the joy of raking all autumn, amassing giant piles of crunchy leaves to fall backwards into.

And with those dreams framed in the front of my mind, I signed on the dotted line.

A few years into my new home ownership, I started to notice a change.  Actually one of my neighbors alerted me.  She, too, had a silver maple in her front yard.  With fewer and fewer leaves, and green leaves yellowing all summer, she had resorted to deep feeding schedules and expert advice.  She feared she was going to lose her tree and she was worried about mine as well.

Happily surrounded by fallen silver maple leaves

I tried to act unconcerned, but the fact was:  I had noticed it too.  It didn’t have as many green leaves, and lots of them would yellow and fall to the ground.  One day I even noticed an entire bare branch without a single leaf intact. I hoped for the best, but my heart secretly feared the worst.  I resorted to iron supplements, fertilizer stakes, deep root watering wands and resigned myself to trim the dead branches as soon as I saw them.  The quicker I could get rid of the symptom, I hoped, the quicker it would mend itself.  Maybe these dead branches were just a figment of my imagination or an unlucky summer budding timeline.

I scoured online looking for possible remedies, causes, cures, reasons, explanations and miracles.  Silver maples, it turns out in the area I lived, did often suffer from iron deficiencies, causing the leaves to yellow.  Drought was also a factor.  After enduring three winters of extreme drought, maybe my summer sprinkler system and the city-patrolled, two-day-a-week watering schedule just wasn’t making up enough ground for those other six months of the year.  I learned that silver maples are also fairly short-lived trees.  The negatives were racking up.  I found myself preparing, secretly, for what seemed to be the inevitable.

Apparently this photo was NOT taken during one of our drought winters!

A few years later, despite my valiant attempts at resuscitation, my beautiful silver maple had been reduced to all of two tall branches that still leafed out timidly.  I wonder if those branches missed their friends and the days of happy green leaves, they looked lonely and abandoned.  Betrayed and left to fight what remained of a losing battle.  It broke my heart to remember its green-leafed canopy, its cool summer shade and those piles of autumn leaves.  They were but a distant memory now.

I wasn’t there the day the tree cutters showed up.  The next time I saw my front yard, the only memory of my dear silver maple was a sawed off stump and the naked blankness of my beige and brick house.  The tree had somehow buffered it so gratuitously for all those years.   The character, the longstanding curb appeal, the aged perfection it had infused to my front yard had dematerialized instantly with that final carcass of wood that they dragged carelessly off to the side of my driveway.  What took nearly thirty years to grow had been butchered into saleable-sized pieces in less than an hour.

Like a friend, my silver maple tree had seen me through my first house, my first car purchase, an emergency appendectomy and a revolving line of friends and roommates.  It had watched me come home much too late on a few nights, but it had also seen me leaving the driveway early on Sunday mornings for church.  It saw me through promotions at work, and disappointments with friends.  It watched me celebrate the weddings of my brother and my sister.  Life was good, life was bad and my silver maple saw it all, standing stoically there in my yard.  No expression but the beautiful leafed tears it shed every fall and the proud buds of hope that welled up each spring.

My beloved silver maple, in all its beauty, is but a memory now, long burned in a fireplace for heat.  It is hard to say goodbye and to let a dream go.  To boldly embrace where it has taken you, but also to realize its end has come.  In a pile of firewood that day, I said goodbye to a tree . . . and a dream, but its beauty will live on forever in my heart.