The words for scent are devilishly difficult to come by. How does one describe the smell of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) for example? There is an old greenness to the scent ; it carries a memory of roots and soil, of “the old brown earth” it comes from. But it’s fragrant too like the warm necks of horses. And yarrow’s smell mingles with its feel—the fibrous roughness of it—the way those tough grayish white florets scrub at the end of your nose.
There are the lovely perfumed medicinal plants like rose and valerian and meadow sweet. You inhale them, and something— a delicious heady wisp of scent— swirls up and around your skull and into your being. Do you ever walk through an invisible band of fragrance in the early evening, stop in your tracks, and say mmmmmmmm, what is that?
And then there are the plants that punch you in the nose with their volatile oils. Volatile—right word! Mint, vital fragrant mint (Mentha balsamea), and the itchy scent of thyme! Bayberry, sweet fern, sweet gale— breathe them in! There’s spruce and pine too, who smell like winter and go right to your lungs.
And what about when you stop by the side of the road, and pineapple weed (Matricaria matricarioides), cousin of chamomile, rises up from the ground and surrounds you with its fruity essence- a mixture of pineapple and dirt and rocks? Or you pass a stand of sweet grass…
When it comes to hearing plants, well, that’s another matter. I met someone this summer who put electrodes on a plant and ran the wires to an amplifier. We waited and then heard a tentative sing-song atonal music that sounded like something from outer space. Here’s a URL that discusses the music of plants in greater detail: https://consciouslivingmagazine.com.au/2016/10/28/learn-from-the-music-of-plants/ I wondered whether this watery music really was the plant’s song, sounds too fine for our ears? Suddenly it ceased, and the large silence made what we had heard even more real.
I knew someone who found morel mushrooms in a place where no one else could find even one though there must have been twenty of us combing that same area. How did you find so many? we asked. At first he claimed he just came upon them, but when I pressed him, he admitted he had heard them. What did they sound like? He paused for a moment and then said, kind of like bells.
I believe I hear plants sometimes as I’m ambling down the road, hear them rustling and shushing, but of course it’s just the wind. Mostly I hear them through my eyes or skin rather than through my ears. And I talk to them with the naïve belief that they can hear me even when I’m not speaking out loud. “Well Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare),” I say, “I missed you this year, you’re all done by now. Shall I pass you by?” Tansy doesn’t answer but I believe I hear it receiving my words, the way you might sense a corpse receiving your words.
This sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? The sort of thing a person should keep to herself.