Friday, August 13, 2010


The Smell of Resins

Sigurd F. Olson (1899-1982), The Singing Wilderness (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956; rpt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 55-56:
One of the grandest smells of all is the combination of pine and spruce and balsam when you can catch the wind blowing over a thousand miles of them. If you could have smelled them as I did one morning after a rain while the trees were still wet and the rising sun was bringing out the resins, you would have had a real whiff of the north. The air coming across those rain-washed hills and valleys was steeped that morning with tonic and cleanness and healing, and I thought of a city I know where the smells are those of industry and burning and where men seldom know the joy of air that has come over miles of wild, unsettled country.

Once in that same city I walked past a lumberyard where the boards were stacked into white and yellow piles. The resinous smell of them stopped me there in the sun, and for an instant the city was gone and I was back in the wilderness. Sometimes I have got the smell in new houses before they are sealed off forever with varnish and stain. Those hints of resin in the heart of the city were like a cool breeze after the heat.

The smell of resins is part of our background, part of the woods existence of our ancestors in the pine forests of other continents. Our response to them is part of our racial awareness; our subconscious is so impregnated with them, the memories they invoke are so involved with our ancient way of life that no amount of city-dwelling removed from the out-of-doors will ever completely erase them.
Ivan Shishkin, Coniferous Forest

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