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Of all times of the day for good odours I think the early morning the very best, although the evening just after sunset, if the air falls still and cool, is often as good. Certain qualities or states of the atmosphere seem to favour the distillation of good odours and I have known times even at midday when the earth was very wonderful to smell. There is a curious, fainting fragrance that comes only with sunshine and still heat. Not long ago I was cutting away a thicket of wild spiraea which was crowding in upon the cultivated land. It was a hot day and the leaves wilted quickly, giving off such a penetrating, fainting fragrance that I let the branches lie where they fell the afternoon through and came often back to smell of them, for it was a fine thing thus to discover an odour wholly new to me.

I like also the first wild, sweet smell of new-cut meadow grass, not the familiar odour of new-mown hay, which comes a little later, and is worthy of its good report, but the brief, despairing odour of grass just cut down, its juices freshly exposed to the sun. One, as it richly in the fields at the mowing. I like also the midday smell of peach leaves and peach-tree bark at the summer priming: and have never let any one else cut out the old canes from the blackberry rows in my garden for the goodness of the scents which wait upon that work.

Another odour I have found animating is the odour of burning wastage in new clearings or in old fields, especially in the evening when the smoke drifts low along the land and takes to itself by some strange chemical process the tang of earthy things. It is a true saying that nothing will so bring back the emotion of a past time as a remembered odour. I have had from a whiff of fragrance caught in a city street such a vivid return of an old time and an old, sad scene that I have stopped, trembling there, with an emotion long spent and I thought forgotten.

Once in a foreign city, passing a latticed gateway that closed in a narrow court, I caught the odour of wild sweet balsam. I do not know now where it came from, or what could have caused it—but it stopped me short where I stood, and the solid brick walls of that city rolled aside like painted curtains, and the iron streets dissolved before my eyes, and with the curious dizziness of nostalgia, I was myself upon the hill of my youth—with the gleaming river in the valley, and a hawk sailing majestically in the high blue of the sky, and all about and everywhere the balsams—and the balsams—full of the sweet, wild odours of the north, and of dreaming boyhood.

And there while my body, the shell of me, loitered in that strange city, I was myself four thousand miles and a quarter of a century away, reliving, with a conscious passion that boyhood never knew, a moment caught up, like a torch, out of the smouldering wreckage of the past.

Do not tell me that such things die! They all remain with us-all the sights, and sounds, and thoughts of by-gone times awaiting only the whiff from some latticed gateway, some closed-in court to spring again into exuberant life. If only we are ready for the great moment!

As for the odour of the burning wastage of the fields at evening I scarcely know if I dare say it. I find it produces in the blood of me a kind of primitive emotion, as though it stirred memories older than my present life. Some drowsy cells of the brain awaken to a familiar stimulus—the odour of the lodge-fire of the savage, the wigwam of the Indian. Racial memories!

But it is not the time of the day, nor the turn of the season, nor yet the way of the wind that matters most but the ardour and glow we ourselves bring to the fragrant earth. It is a sad thing to reflect that in a world so overflowing with goodness of smell, of fine sights and sweet sounds, we pass by hastily and take so little of them. Days pass when we see no beautiful sight, hear no sweet sound, smell no memorable

odour: when we exchange no single word of deeper understanding with a friend. We have lived a day and added nothing to our lives! A blind, grubbing, senseless life—that!

It is a strange thing, also, that instead of sharpening the tools by which we take hold of life we make studied efforts to dull them. We seem to fear life and early begin to stop our ears and close our eyes lest we hear and see too much: we clog our senses and cloud our minds. We seek dull security and ease and cease longer to desire adventure and struggle. And then—the tragedy of it—the poet we all have in us in youth begins to die, the philosopher in us dies, the martyr in us dies, so that the long, long time beyond youth with so many of us becomes a busy death. And this I think truer of men than of women: beyond forty many women just begin to awaken to power and beauty, but most men beyond that age go on dying. The task of the artist, whether poet, or musician, or painter, is to keep alive the perishing spirit of free adventure in men: to nourish the poet, the prophet, the martyr, we all have in us.

One’s sense of smell, like the sense of taste, is sharpest when he is hungry, and I am convinced also that one sees and hears best when unclogged with food, undulled with drink, undrugged with smoke. For me, also, weariness, though not exhaustion, seems to sharpen all the senses. Keenness goes with leanness. When I have been working hard or tramping the country roads in the open air and come in weary and hungry at night and catch the fragrance of the evening along the road or upon the hill, or at barn-doors smell the unmilked cows, or at the doorway, the comfortable odours of cooking supper how good that all is! At such times I know Esau to the core: the forthright, nature-loving, simple man he was, coming in dabbled with the blood of hunted animals and hungry for the steaming pottage.

It follows that if we take excessive joys of one sense, as of taste, nature, ever seeking just balances, deprives us of the full enjoyment of the others, “I am stuffed, cousin,” cries Beatrice in the play, “I cannot smell.” “I have drunk,” remarks the Clown in Arcady, “what are roses to me?” We forget that there are five chords in the great scale of life—sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and—few of us ever master the chords well enough to get the full symphony of life, but are something like little pig-tailed girls playing Peter Piper with one finger while all the music of the universe is in the Great Instrument, and all to be had for the taking.

Of most evil odours, it can be said that they are temporary or unnecessary: and any unpleasant odour, such as that of fruit sprays in spring, or fertilizer newly spread on the land, can be borne and even welcomed if it is appropriate to the time and place. Some smells, evil at first, become through usage not unpleasant. I once stopped with a wolf-trapper in the north country, who set his bottle of bait outside when I came in. He said it was “good and strong” and sniffed it with appreciation. I agreed with him that it was strong. To him it was not unpleasant, though made of the rancid fat of the muscallonge. All nature seems to strive against evil odours, for when she warns us of decay she is speeding decay: and a manured field produces later the best of all odours. Almost all shut-in places sooner or later acquire an evil odour: and it seems a requisite for good smells that there be plenty of sunshine and air; and so it is with the hearts and souls of men. If they are long shut in upon themselves they grow rancid.


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