Posted by: Memorizing Nature | July 17, 2011

Losing Sense

Flowers don’t smell like much of anything. I wouldn’t know how to describe the fragrance of a daisy, the perfume of milkweed. The strength of flowers is in their good looks, and now I am too blind to be impressed. Here I lie on a still hammock in the heat during the middle of an afternoon, so tired I repeat my own dreams with variations, confusing wish from truth. My eyes have lost their flexibility; temporary weights push down my lids. I cannot wag my toes. My ears ring in surreal sound.

I am hungry, but wonder if my arm muscles are strong enough to open the fridge. So thirsty, but instead of getting up to pour a drink of water, I crave a soft rain. This is the height of apathy. Yet it is fine to be bored, to be caught in reverie, to focus on getting air into lungs, to encourage the beating of an arrhythmic heart.   

Viper’s Bugloss – Echium vulgare. Photo by E. Medline

Without sight or hearing, the aromas around me transform into images. I inhale the skin of the frogs in the marsh, the sweaty feathers of a scavenging crow, a breath of oxygen escaping from the stoma of leaves. A soapy scent of sheets evaporates on the line. The acrid dust of gravel is uprooted by cars. I note the ammonia-like stench from the faraway pulp and paper plant, and adding to the general funk, a skunk has done battle.

Among all this activity, I cannot detect any flowers. If I were a flying insect, would flowers be the only fact on earth? Would pollen and sugar spur the economy, would televisions come in ultraviolet, and would false eyespots serve as fashion?  

I remember my days at summer camp, when we showered in shacks with watermelon shampoo and brushed our teeth in troughs redolent with last month’s paste.  The troughs stood beside a lake pungent with the scales of trout, which leapt and landed among carpets of algae and water lilies. Above the lake stood the cabins, where we slept in bunks stinking of minimally laundered socks. Outside these huts, the spice of last year’s pine needles softened our paths.  

Brown-Eyed Susan – Rudbeckia hirta. Photo by E. Medline

Oh, there was a time when all my senses had equal power, when I could smell as well as I saw. If I shut my eyes more often . . . 

It was an annual tradition for the campers to reunite in the city’s exhibition grounds on Labour Day at the start of autumn. There, the grease from the workings of the rides shared the air with tangy booths selling squeezed lemon juice. Gutter garbage competed with air currents of fried food like mini-donuts baking in oil along a conveyor belt, given away in paper bags for free. The day after Labour Day marked the beginning of school, in which the corridors wafted squished peanut butter sandwiches and bruised apples, during those pre-computer days when chalk choked us and our cramped hands dissipated leaked ink.          

Along the path of evolution, I imagine our current senses will gradually disappear. More and more, we will live within our brains, our neurons swirling in a feedback loop of recollections and regret.  And then a new sense will be born, and our thoughts will be shared in a modern language of symbolic pheromones, much like vanilla and chocolate but with more meaning. That won’t be so bad; we were created to mutate elegantly.   

Purple-Flowering Raspberry – Rubus odoratus. Photo by E. Medline

I smell brush burning, and wonder how many millipedes and beetles are going up in smoke. I smell wet paint, replacing the peeling sadness of decay. I smell birch bark, torn from the tree by a recent tornado of hail. I smell the dung of a caterpillar, deposited to renew the soil.    

Suddenly, the thread of the hammock pulls apart, and my ears, suddenly functioning, hear the accelerated ripping of rope before I hit moss and rock. With my eyes still closed, I sense it, a whiff of flower, maybe a purple-flowering raspberry. I wish I could tell you more about that elusive scent, but you know about it yourself in a slight, prehistoric way. It is there, it is gone. I rise and brush off my knees. I feel I have wasted my day, because I have forgotten what it was that caught my fancy, and have no way of putting any of it into words.


Note to readers: at Macro Monday, photographers showcase their close-ups.



  1. Your writing is fun, Elaine. Your writing style and photo style are very complimentary….reminds me of another great Canadian artist, Freeman Patterson. The macro shots also bring me back to 7th floor and Liz A’s photography (she’s trying to make a go of it as a photographer in SF).

    Come out West and I’ll show off how nature looks out this way.

    • Norm, you are too generous, Freeman Patterson seems awesome. Yes, the 7th floor, cramming for biology exams. I remember all we cared about was genetics! We had to break everything down to its building blocks, and then I had to spend the next several decades putting it all back together to make it whole again!

  2. So pretty! The first one makes me think on a pretty blue spider with hot pink legs, lol.

  3. You write beautifully and lyrically and your photographs are wonderful–I love your blog!

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