I was sort of in a slump and feeling particularly unmotivated, so I asked someone to give me a topic to write about. She came back quickly with, “how good summer smells”, not knowing, apparently, that the sinus infections of my youth have left me congested most of the time. Aromas aren’t as potent for me as it is for others (though thankfully neither are odors).
Luckily, there are days when my nose is clear. My grandfather lost his sense of smell completely somewhere during his life. I always thought that was the saddest thing, that he would never be able to smell the richness of Grandma’s cookies as they came out or the oven with their chocolate chips still gooey and sweet. I am fortunate not have that problem, and when I’m able to breathe freely, I do indeed get to enjoy the smells of summer.
Full disclosure: I’m not a summer guy. It’s just too…bright. Too optimistic. It’s warm, it’s sunny, the birds are singing and the trees are green. Activity is everywhere you look: bikers and beach-bunnies, dogs playing and kids running. It’s too upbeat and fast-paced for my liking.
Nor am I a spring guy (too wet, too mulchy) or a winter guy (too cold, too dark for too long). No, I like autumn, for… well, lots of reasons. I’ll write about it in fall. I may have written about it already, but I write a lot of stuff, so who knows?
Anyway, summer. This summer, I’m appreciating it in much the same way a man approaches air after being submerged to the point of agony, or the way a house greets the firefighters who have come to wrestle the inferno inside it down to dying embers.
This winter was a hard one on me. I felt it in the marrow of my bones, in the nerves clutching at the back of my eyes, and in the deepest corners of each chamber of my heart. So yeah, you could say I’m a fan of summer this year.
Summers in Alaska stretch long, the longest days usually over 20 hours of some degree of light. Right now, early May, is a perfect time. I’ve stayed up late enough to see the sunrise, tickseeds and tangerines yawning across the belly of the horizon. I live for the cobalt evenings, a blue pane that gives a glimpse into a greater outdoors, turning over into the purples and blacks that often accompany the more showy magic tricks. I love the games the sun plays on the inlet, the rays scattering like so many precious gems, leaving me richer for viewing it.
And yes, the smells. The fresh smell of rain on pavement. “Rain makes change,” my friend wrote right before I stole it and filed it away under “Things I’ll try to turn into poetry later.” And it does. It washes away the grime of long days and hard nights, drums a march along your windows and roofs, leaves behind a scent of cleanliness, and if cleanliness is next to godliness, then rain is heaven-sent.
The smell of pine is fresh. We know this because we hang air fresheners in our cars and our commonly defiled bathrooms, but it takes only a second to enjoy a summer pine tree in a way we don’t afford the ones we drag in for Christmas. Winter pine trees are nonsense, mess-makers and back strainers, and holy shit, did we just murder a tree so we can prop its corpse up for a week and a shove material items under? Barbaric.
No, summer pines are better. They are the ones you stumble across on a lazy Sunday afternoon when you decide, fuck it, let’s detour off this sidewalk into these mystic-looking woods. They’re the ones that smell as richly green as they look. If you have synesthesia, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, that’s a metaphor. Find some woods. Do some soul-searching.
Summer has the smell of fresh harvests. Street vendors smoke and grill their wares. Laughter rings through the air, growing and fading as the children dart past. Sprinklers dance back and forth on fresh-cut lawns (which I have an inexplicable allergy to, but they smell great as well, and they look damn fine), and kids and dogs jump through the streams of water. Robins thrust their ruby breasts out and coo cutely before taking flight, illustrating a majesty that exists in birds no matter how small (a hummingbird, let’s say) or ugly (a vulture. Sorry! I’m sorry. That was rude. You have a great personality.).
When summer rolls around, I think of apples – red and green – and hotdogs, bonfires by a lake and stealing rhubarb from the neighbor’s garden as a kid. I wasn’t much of a rhubarb fan, would certainly politely abstain from a slice of rhubarb pie, but I liked the way it made my mouth pucker up.
The wind in your hair feels different in summer than any other season. In winter, it isolates you. You realize more fully your individuality, your solidarity. Winter is flat, it’s bare, it’s simple, and a winter wind reminds you that you are merely one object moving through it. Spring wind is chill and often excited. It’s a promise of warmer, dryer days where the slop of the ground turns over full gardens. Autumn wind is art. We’ll talk about autumn wind.
But summer breeze through your hair? Baby, that’s freeing. The carelessness and whimsy of summer days in the sun on soft grass with good company and a cold beer, that takes the punch out of even the most wrenching 40 hour work week. Seeing golden rays on a dark-haired, light-freckled woman as she turns to smile on you puts as much air in your body as under the wings of a kite.
Summer is a little too innocent for me. It whispers secrets of a life I gave up on a few years back. I’m a fall man, full of color and introspection and retrospection. Summer is sweet where I’m tangy, but goddamn….
Summer is beautiful. And it smells good, too.