Writing 101: Day 8: Once upon a Childhood Fragrance

Day Eight: Death to Adverbs
Today’s Prompt: Go to a local café, park, or public place and write a piece inspired by something you see.

Foliage at the back of the park. Photographer: Lenee Cobb
Foliage at the back of the park. Photographer: Lenee Cobb

Once upon a Childhood Fragrance
By Leneé Cobb

Spring floats upon the April breeze along this one section at our community park. It’s back here, along the stream as it meanders among tree roots and rocks. Every year I make it a point to hike to this specific area at the back of the park so I can breathe its peculiar fragrance. I know it comes from one of these trees growing along the banks and this year I’m determined to discover which one, and put a name to it.

This particular tree harnesses memories of the Chugach Mountains in Alaska, reminders of childhood’s fresh wonder. It transports me back to a time when there was nothing created that would want to hurt me or anyone else. A time when moose, bears, and wolves were nothing to fear and birds flittered about for my pleasure to chase, days when the petals of the wild Dog rose were as peppermint candy to wandering children.

Dog rose. Photographer: Lenee Cobb
Dog rose. Photographer: Lenee Cobb

One spring, I took my son; he was about twelve at the time, on a hike up the mountain behind where we live. We packed a few snacks in a small backpack and hiked up an old logging road. About a half mile in, at a spot where the woods opened up to a fairly wide clearing, my nose detected that familiar scent among the many and I stopped to look around. We were under a huge chestnut tree, but that wasn’t where the scent came from, neither did it originate from the alders, elderberries, or cottonwoods. It wasn’t in sprouting fireweed or blooming blackberry, although all things added to the overall sweet-sap smell of Spring.

Wanting to stay a while in hopes of discovering the source, I said, “This looks like a good spot for a snack.”
We sat upon the driest patch of damp ground available, between the roots of the chestnut, eating cheese and crackers, washing them down with a shared can of strawberry apricot nectar. My son stood and walked to the center of the clearing, arms outstretched, and turned in a circle, chin up, breathing deep. He asked, “What is that smell I’m smelling?”

“You like it?”

“Yes!” He smiled.

“That is Spring.”

“You can smell Spring?”

“Yes. Of course.”

He looked at me as if I was crazy, but smiled, satisfied.

I knew at that moment that I’d treasure this scene for the rest of my life.

He’s 34 with kids of his own, grandchildren I’ve hiked this path at the park with so they too can know the smell of Spring. Ducks, geese, and seagulls pester kids for bread and, like my grandchildren, these kids squeal with glee as they toss chunks of it towards them and then run away, giggling. Today, I mosey along the stream at the park without my grandchildren, missing them, wondering if they’ve remembered this identification with Spring.

An April's day at the park. Photographer: Lenee Cobb
An April’s day at the park. Photographer: Lenee Cobb

My nostrils flare. I stop and look around at every plant, both little and big. I discover the source. It is a tree growing next to the willows with small, almost teardrop-shaped shinny leaves. I touch one, turn it over, run my fingertips along its top and slick, moist-looking bottom, raise the leaf between my fingers to my nose and breathe. Yes. This is the tree from whence all my springtime’s gather.

Its bark looks like a mix of alder and birch. I memorize my friend in detail, pinching off a leaf as a keepsake.

Once I’m home, the leaf continues to gift me with fragrance and memories as I research its name.

The Balsam poplar– my Alaskan Spring–when everything is new once more.


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