Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Time Traveling by the Scent of a Leaf

I promise not to whine or moan about my air conditioning today. After a four-hour visit from a new repairman, my system is up and running with a cleaned-out evaporation system and a new fan and motor. It wasn't cheap but I didn't expect it to be. I now have blissfully cool air pumping out of my vents while the weather outside is very hot and clammy. All is good.

Instead, I'm going to talk about time travel which may seem like an odd topic of blog-versation but, well, hopefully it'll make sense.

It all began with a hydrangea leaf.

While the very nice air conditioning fix-it man was outside working on my pesky unit, I was
outside with the puppies, trying to make them stop barking. Rory isn't a barker but Sookie is. It's only with strangers which is actually not such a bad thing. She's very protective of me.

We were outside and it was mid-morning. The plants and grass were still very wet from the rain/humidity that we had last night. In one of my side flowerbeds, I have a large hydrangea bush. I didn't plant it but I enjoy it nonetheless. The puppies ran off to chase a bird, and I was left standing there. Without thinking, I reached out and picked one of the large green leaves from the hydrangea bush. I folded it in half and tore a small circle of the folded leaf and then, still without realizing what I was really doing, I gently tore a slit below the circle. I unfolded it and realized I had made a face on my leaf.

It was something I haven't done in many, many years but, obviously, something I had done before. I cast my mind back and remembered doing it as a child. Just then, the scent of the leaf caught my nose and, for an instant, it was like travelling back in time.

The smell invoked in me a set of memories from my childhood. It's a fresh, green, almost herbal
scent. I remembered, then, picking leaves from the large hydrangea bushes that belonged to our next-door neighbour, Mrs. Olly. Mrs. Olly was a mean old lady who hated the neighbourhood children. She would constantly be telling tales on us or watching us from her living room window. She had a lovely garden though and her hydrangea bushes were lots of different colours.
The scent made me remember how my friend and I had invented the face-game with the leaves, making little leaf-people with each small circle that was torn out for eyes. Then I remembered using the leaves to play teaparty- the leaves were our plates. We used the leaves to cover insects, to make leaf trails.

With another sniff of the leaf, I remembered summer afternoons during our British summer holidays which lasted six-weeks. Compared to the American summer vacation of 12 weeks, that seems short but, at the time, it seemed like a lovely long, near-eternity when you're only eight or nine or ten or even eleven. Then again, if you didn't know better, it would seem like a long time to any child, no matter how old.

The smell made me remember the British summer days. We'd get up early, the dew wet on the lawn. I'd be wearing a summer dress because girls really didn't wear trousers much when
I was little. We did on weekends but our primary wardrobes were skirts and tops or casual dresses. I remember putting on my sandals. Buying my summer sandals was an annual affair where my mum would take me and my sister to the shops so we could pick the sandals we were to wear all summer. At first we had to wear socks with them. Nowadays, I'd think that dorky but, back then, it was perfectly normal. As it got warmer, we got to wear them without socks.

Once I had my sandals on, I'd go outside and look at the world. It would be deep in its morning colours, the shadows and light closer together than they would be for most of the day. I remember how wet the dew was and how my feet got wet.

As the morning past, I'd probably either play with a friend, play with one of my siblings- most likely my little brother or I'd read. I loved to read. It was my favourite activity. It still is, actually.

In the afternoons, my mum would often take us to the park. I don't know how she did it,
honestly. She'd not only escort me there but often one of my friends. My sister would take her doll, sometimes in its stroller and my younger brother would always want to bring his friend Andrew. My older brother was often already down the park with a friend. He loved to fish and would often be fishing with his friends.

My mum would patiently lead us down the park. Sometimes we'd go through the brickfields- over the little waterfall things that, to this day, I'm not sure what they do. There was a bridge over them and we always had to pause to watch the water. On the other side of the bridge, there was a river. My brother would sometimes be fishing here so we'd go see if he'd caught anything. If not, we proceeded along the way to Admirals park. We'd pass through a little spinney of trees where there was a tiny, algea-crusted pond. I'd always look at the pond, wondering if, one day, the entire surface would be light-green with algae instead of just patches.

We'd walk a little further and then, finally, we'd be at the park. It was a typical park with
a see-saw, roundabout, swings and slide. Yet it also had a river in which, when we were permitted, we could fish.

That was another annual tradition: Fishing nets. When the summer holidays began, we'd go to the sweet shop (aka, the newsagents) and they'd have a stack of coloured fishing nets leaning up in the corner of the shop, against the window. They were just little nets on a bamboo stick, like a butterfly net but of a stiffer material. We'd proudly buy our nets. After a couple of years experience of fishing for minnows, my brother and I had learned that the nets easily detatched from the bamboo stick so we knew to tape the net to the handle for security.

So, when we'd go to the park, we'd take our nets. When mum was ready, she'd allow us to join the many other children who were already in the river, fishing. Some places were deep, others shallow. The trick was to try to go somewhere where no one else was. We'd be wearing our wellington boots because there were rocks and glass on the bottom of the river.

When we caught a minnow or, even better, a bigger type of fish, we'd put it in a jar that we had with us, just for this purpose. We'd continue until we were summoned by mum to get out. We'd leave with a protest. Most of the time, we'd let the fish go but sometimes, we'd take them home with us.

After that, we'd play in the park for a bit longer and then, tired, hot and ready to leave, we'd go back home, have tea (the meal, not the drink) and then go to bed even though it was still light out and, most likely, would be for a couple more hours.

All this, I remembered in a few brief seconds just by the scent of the hydrangea leaf. It sounds dramatic but it's true. As soon as I smelled the leaf, I was back in England, on a warm, sunny, summer day, my hands smelling of hydrangea, nagging at my mum to see when were going to go to the park.

In a way, to me, that was time travel. I may not have physically gone but for the moments that I remembered, I was there, in my past, back to being a child and remembering every sensation, every sound and every smell of my youthful summers. The memories were so powerful, I could almost hear the trickle of the river as I fished.

Of course, as an adult, I've been back to the park and realized that it wasn't even really a river but more of an over-wide stream. It turned into a river above and below where we fished but, in the park, it wasn't much to speak of; it was just a long, muddy stream of water with a little man-made path on both sides.

Yet, as a child, it was a river. It was our summer place. It was our tradition. It was a place I remember now but remembered far more vividly when I smelled the scent of that leaf.

I was back there, in the past for just a few moments. The air conditioning man had faded from my mind, the puppies were a distant concern and I was back to being a child.

So maybe it wasn't time travel as most people imagined it but, to me, it's as close as I'm likely to get. I think from now on when the woes of the world get to me in the form of broken air conditioners, office politics, writer's frustration and no PTO at work, I will just go outside, pluck off a leaf from my hydrangea bush and smell it.

And, if it's winter, I'll just find another way to travel back in time, just for a little while.

Happy Thursday!

1 comment:

Rain Dancer said...

I totally get this post! When I was back home in Gaston, I went outside to my car to get something and the earth smelled as I remembered it as a child...and I was taken back for a brief moment. It was awesome! Thanks for sharing.