Monday, May 25, 2009

A Butterscotch Pearl

(A New Autotelism III)

"Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high."
— John Denver

I can't remember the day I first saw my mother smell a tree; but I can imagine it. A hike on a hot summer day (the trick works best in the heat), myself still clumsy with extreme youth, and my mother leaning easily forward to bring her nose close to the bark of a tall pine, just a foot off the trail. I might have asked her why — I might have simply followed her lead and pressed my face to the rough trunk.

The bark of the Ponderosa Pine gives off a rich, yeasty, butterscotch smell. Mixed with pine needles, fresh air, and sweat: for me it is one of the most pleasant smells. When I smell it, I feel a sense of accomplishment, and think of peanut-butter sandwiches that have been crushed in a backpack. My legs get jumpy; they want to move, to get to work. The reverse is true, too. When the weather gets crisp and warm in the spring, the smell comes rushing back to me — though I'm now 500 miles from a Ponderosa — and I get a bounce in my step.

I don't know what to call such a pattern of thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and external stimuli that all get tangled together. It is more than just a memory — I don't smell, then remember, then feel. Instead, it all happens in a seemingly random order. Sometimes it takes a great deal of work to track down the actual memory that originally connected what I'm seeing with what I'm feeling.

There must be thousands — hundreds of thousands — of delicate patterns like this one. Sometimes sauerkraut makes me proud. Bring my nostrils the fantastic smell after a heavy, angry rain — Actinomycetes blooming, as it turns out — and I go euphoric. 'Gargantuan' makes me smile secretly.

I think of them as pearls. Hidden deep inside, invisible, is the event that caused the pattern to form; on the lustrous exterior are the thoughts, memories, emotions, and sensations that have become tangled up because of it. They come in great long chains, one after another after another.

It seems to me that those pearls, when taken all together, are much of what make me who I am.

1 comment:

  1. Being me is knowing all the in-jokes between me and myself.