- Michelle Sterling
The Scent of Green
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On my morning walk, I approached a mesquite tree that’s been hanging low over the sidewalk since its growth spurt this Spring. Normally, I step into the street to get around it. But today, my inner child took over and wanted to bend way down to walk under and be enveloped by it.
When I was a child, I loved sitting under the canopy of trees – especially the ones with limbs that reached all the way to the ground. Those spaces were magical places to get lost in my dreams about the future.
I guess today, my body decided it was time to pull me back to experiencing the joy of such a space. The reality of it was not quite as magical; mesquite branches are covered in thorns, and it was more like walking straight into some branches than resting in the comfort of their cover. But...the magic still happened.
In the brief moments I was enlaced with branches I rustled up a smell I hadn’t experienced before: the smell of fresh baby mesquite leaves. I stopped for a minute to fully breathe it in and commit it to memory. My second breath incorporated the unmistakable scent of the desert: the creosote brush, mingling its way into the fragrance mix. I was comforted and excited all at once.
The best way I could put words to the experience in that moment was green. It smelled like green.
I spent the rest of my walk thinking about the color green, and all the different memories the smell of it conjures. The best news is that this joy-inducing exercise can be done anytime by anyone. Let me explain.
Our brains store memories in packets. (My term; not a neuroscience term.) This is why they say to never listen to a song you love when you’re going through something tragic, like a breakup. It can forever ruin the song for you because anytime you hear that song, you’ll be transported to that breakup moment and relive all the feels.
The more intense the emotions we feel, the more vivid the memory imprint. This is both good, and bad.
Scents can be particularly vivid memory makers. And this is where it gets fun. You can intentionally tap into a fragrance memory (even without smelling it) and capture some of those fond memories. It’s like going on a sensory journey in your mind.
Here’s how it went for me. “Hmm…that smells delightfully green. Green. What a beautiful color. What other green smells can I think of?” And then I had activated the scent of green memory packet in my brain, and I could just enjoy the show.
First, I thought of other trees, and how the smell of those trees were so connected to place. The tall pine trees you smell when you step out of the plane in northwestern Montana; the junipers and piñons on the rolling foothills of New Mexico; the humidity drenched Live Oak leaves along the cracked sidewalks in the Deep South. Breathe it all in; those beautiful places; those beautiful memories.
Then I moved to shorter green things in the nature category. Freshly mowed green grass; the mint outside my grandmother’s kitchen door; a mass planting of trailing rosemary shrubs by my pool at my first house in Phoenix; eucalyptus in a spa steam room. All so delightful.
Next, I started thinking about other green-scented things: Honeydew, limes, rivers and oceans, money…
Each vision conjured up a slew of happy memories – snapshots on the highlight reel of my life.
Picnics, mojitos, my feet in sand on the beach, and the elderly lady I always waited on as a teller, with her kind eyes and bosom full of damp cash smelling of powder, perfume and sweat. Each so vivid and comforting.
I returned from my walk feeling vibrant and refreshed. And happy.
It’s easy to get pulled into all the toxicity these days. Today was a good reminder for me that a pleasant journey is only one color and one deep breath away.