Every year, at this time, something happens to me. Maybe when the sap begins to rise in the trees, there is an answering rise of sap in human bodies as well. This human body feels it acutely and so the counting begins. What do I count? The appearance of each new, fresh as dew, phenomenon. First Crocus. First Robin. First Dandelion. First Picnic Tables in front of Ace hardware. First sound of a lawnmower.
You psychologists out there will be having a field day with my OC symptom of counting. I've been doing it so long, it's worn a deer trail of neural pathways into my grey spongy stuff. So let the counting begin.
Today marks the first whiff of my personal favorite 'first', the dreamy, aromatic scent of cottonwood trees. More specifically, within the woody terminal buds, the inner bud scales are saturated in an ambrosial resin.
This resin exudes a scent that is beyond description. Usually, I have no problem describing things...slathering a sizzling string of adjectives in front of some hapless noun. Not this. Nope. No can do. But you want to take a shot at fitting a handle on cottonwood scent, check out this wonderful resource for perfume descriptives.
When these buds first open, this perfume spreads like an invisible mist over the whole town. Up in the woods, it is positively intoxicating. Every time I open my front door, my nose smiles. It feels like an oceanic blessing. Yet, strangely enough, every year when I rhapsodize about this experience, I'm usually greeted with a cavernous yawn of indifference. Aside from the precious few, who like me, fall helplessly under the spell, it seems the rest of my compatriots are immune to the dreamy rapture wafting from Populus deltoids occidentalis.
So today I noticed the first whisper of a scent that I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to describe for 20 years.
What a tree! In the spring, a harvest of perfume . A few weeks later, bud scales cascade to earth like a mahogany snowfall. A while after that, the male flower catkins finish blooming (see above) and rain down like a plague of dead caterpillars, spackling cars, sidewalks, bicycles, garden boots, lawn furniture, garden tools, and especially pets.
Then comes the cotton, great rolling whisps like angel tumbleweed auguering sidewise along pavement in little spirals. We wear it in our hair.
I remember one day last spring, frisky breezes started unloading the cottonwoods like teamsters. Then the roiling spirals of fluff started filling First St. by Riverside Park. Like a low flying cloud layer it hovered, drifting indecisively this way and that. Albino cotton candy taking a leisurely romp through town. Surreal as an alien life form.
We won't even talk about the leaves that eventually make their way earthward. In sheer tonnage, cottonwoods put all other trees to shame. But that's too far in the future to worry about. I think the prodigious output of cotton, catkins and especially leaves, is what causes some folks to curse cottonwoods like they do burdocks and dandelions.
Two weeks ago, the cottonwood buds began to swell. They're still pretty tight, but as of today, they're just starting to leak their woody incense. In another week, I'm betting on them popping open, maybe a week after that they fall...and so on.
I'll let you know the day when our town gets hosed with that melifluous, resiny sweetness, so if you live where cottonwoods grow, you can run outside and take great snorts of this heady treat and be glad, oh so glad, you're alive in your cottonwoody city, burrough, or mountainside retreat.
Look for other firsts that will be appearing daily in this springtime extravaganza of sensory exuberance.
I can hardly wait!