Fragrance

My own! I found ‘my own’ Fremont holly this afternoon by its fragrance. All fragrance in the desert is enhanced by heat, it seems: an afternoon walk through the juniper-piñon forest smells so different than a morning walk, once the sun has softened the saps. I relish these hot walks, but rarely indulge anymore, the paths too hot on bare dog paws, and the ambient temperature hard on Stellar’s respiration recently, in his last aging days. But this afternoon late we took a short loop walk north and west of the yarden, a path we travel many mornings when it’s cooler, less fragrant, and that’s when I smelled it.

A gentle whiff, a hint, on the warm breeze… at first, a nose-tickling memory, that big holly uphill, just south of the fenceline… too close… there’s one nearby, I can smell it… I followed my nose even as Stellar followed the path ahead, and saw through the trees, off to the right, a bright yellow glow beyond deep green boughs. A treasure found! ‘My own’ Mahonia fremontii, in ‘my own’ woods! I knew there had to be one, and knew this was the season to hunt for it with my nose. This shrub has grown here for decades invisibly; I’ve walked within forty feet of it almost daily the past few years. Only by noticing its cousin elsewhere nearby, inhaling its intoxicating, almost cloying aroma, and paying attention, did I manage to find it this spring.

Not nearly as huge as the neighbor’s, nor as tangled, ‘my own’ Fremont holly stands alone and sculptural between a tall piñon and a few junipers, not far off the Breakfast Loop trail, toward the draw before the horse ranch. In the heat of late afternoon its fragrance intensified, leading me to it. I’m grateful for fragrance: of the wild holly, the white iris, the pink honeysuckle covered in bees, the last lilac… Grateful, too, though frightened, late this night, for the fraught, forewarning fragrance of smoke on the dark breeze: there’s a fire somewhere, already. We’ll know more later.

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