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.
Through the crabapple tree, Eurasian collared doves perch in the old feeder tree, with the West Elk Mountains beyond still white with recent snow.
The first of these exotic (read invasive) birds arrived in Colorado in the mid-nineties, and twenty years later they now inhabit all 64 counties, with a recent Christmas Bird Count total of almost 20,000 individuals. Purist birders despair, hunters revel, and me, I just think about how fast our world is changing, how many species are going extinct, how arbitrary some of our values are, and how glad I am to have any doves at all in my yard. I don’t feel as tolerant of invasive exotic plant species, however, like cheatgrass, whitetop, tumbleweed… that list goes on and on, and is the bane of any gardener’s existence.
May just may be the sweetest month here. Mountain bluebirds perch on fenceposts, swooping on grasshoppers; house finches nesting in the gutter over the front door fledge in the dead juniper, and magpie babies squawk from their high nest north of the house. From inside yesterday I watched a fragile house wren flap its new wings like a butterfly, and got outside just in time to see the last one leave the nest in the adobe wall. Black-chinned hummingbirds court and feed in the yard. Alarge black and yellow bumblebee as big as my whole thumb circles the lilacs and leaves, a small fast hawk flaps and glides across the flat bright sky on this unusually cloudy humid day with no chance of rain.
It looks like I’ll have peaches and apples this year, as those trees transition from bloom to fruit. The mingled scents of newly flowering trees waft through the yard and into the house through open doors. I’ve stood with my face in the crabapple tree inhaling deeply, watching bees, who scatter if I exhale without turning my head away. Honeybees don’t like carbon dioxide, and who can blame them.
I can capture all the photographs and video and audio I could store and more, and never capture the scent of these flowering trees, this luscious pink crabapple, this effulgent lilac, or last month the almond tree at night. The fragrance seems to pulse, as though the trees themselves inhale and exhale at their own extended respiratory rate, slower than we notice, mostly. Certain times of days the bees will flock to one or another.
The crabapple has never been more beautiful than it is this year, and never had more bees.
Possibly Bombus griseocollis, the brown-belted bumblebee.
For a few days this ornamental plum shrub was full of bees and other bugs.
Get your nose out of our business! cried the little bugs to the honeybee, all pollinating the apple tree.
A tiny sweat bee drunk in a tulip cup.
My bumblebee anxiety has dissolved even further this past week, with scores of them on Nepeta, Ajuga, and the mind-bending lilac, another tree that’s never been more full of flower and fragrance. I sit with it an hour a day all told this time of year if I can, breathing its cleansing, intoxicating scent. So moved by its power over me, I sought lilac essential oil online with mixed and disappointing results. Many sources say essential oil can’t be derived from lilac for various reasons, and there are many brands of lilac ‘fragrance’ oil for sale, but I did find a few sites with directions for infusing lilac flowers in oil or water.
This is me, these days, wallowing in lilac like this Bombus huntii.
Fat red Anthophora bomboides, or digger bee, and below, a moth.
So I’ve ordered a bottle of grapeseed oil, and trust the deep purple lilacs on the north side of the lilac patch will be in perfect bloom by the time it arrives. Meanwhile, I’ll make lilac scones again this weekend. Last year Chef Gabrielle and I candied lilac flowers, and that was a lot of work for a lovely but minuscule result. The lilac scones provided much more gratification for significantly less work. The lilac, by the way, is also a non-native species, though not aggressive enough to be considered a weed…
In other spring food news, I’m set for the next few weeks for my greens intake. I made a dandelion smoothie for breakfast the other day, with apple, flaxseed, nuts, yogurt, blueberries, and ginger root. Yum! There’s a nearly infinite supply of dandelions to share with the bees, and Biko the tortoise who relishes both flowers and leaves.
Wild asparagus from along the neighbors’ driveway, and a secret place in the woods, chopped small for Cream of Asparagus soup: vegetable stock, sautéed onion, asparagus, and fresh cow’s milk blended with a dash each of salt, pepper, and homemade paprika, garnished with a dab of yogurt mixed with parmesan cheese and lemon zest, topped with nutmeg.