Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chasing the Intangible

If this book could be more, could show more, could own more, this book would have smells....
It would have the smell of old farms; the sweet smell of new-mown hay as it falls off the oiled sickle blade when the horses pull the mower through the field, and the sour smell of manure steaming in a winter barn.
~ Gary Paulsen, The Winter Room

If my camera could be more, could show more, could own more, my camera would have smells. So too would this blog, this two-dimensional medium which prevents me from conveying the scent emanating in the wooded area down along the river by Father Hennepin Park.

As I walked the trails last Thursday, alone over the lunch hour, I was taken aback by the perfume of the trees and shrubs. Up above the river banks we have city trees, city shrubs. Lovely they may be, but all I smell when walking down the street is car exhaust and olives from the Greek deli on the corner. I forget that plants have smells. I forget that nature in its natural state is stronger, bigger, more forceful.

All I could think, then, was of the preface to The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen. I first read it in sixth grade, or more accurately, my teacher read it aloud to the class. Few books really stick with me from my preteen years, an era marked by largely disposable juvenile fiction. The Winter Room stuck with me.

The yearning in his words (quoted above) captures the inadequacy of expression, the inability to ever take a moment and present it in entirety to another. How do we really communicate? How do we make people understand our ideas and our experiences? As I walked the tree-shrouded path, I wanted to make my camera take a smell-picture. I wanted it to suck the scent of the blossoms into its lens, reflecting and imprinting it for others to relish.

But it couldn't. And neither can books. Books and blogs can't have smells, tastes, texture. And that is a shame. That walk was lovely, and I would have liked to share the air and all its heavy humid scents with you.

Along the way I came across a man sitting cross-legged on the edge of an overhang. He was posed as if meditating but in his left hand he held an unopened book.

Was his book, like this blog, inadequate in that moment? Both fail in comparison to moments like these. Nevertheless, it is our nature to try to grab hold of fleeting impressions and to try to convey them to one another as best we can.

If this blog had smells, this blog would smell like spring leaves and tightly closed blossoms, slowly warming under weak afternoon sunlight, It would have a sweet, wet floral scent, one which I thought was lilac until I smelled the distinctly different scent of lilacs the next day. If this blog had smells, it would smell of damp soil, slick with the morning's rain, and crushed green grass.

If this blog had smells, it would smell greener and wilder than any breath inhaled along a city street. 

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