Desert Animals: Scent Memory, Place, and Nostalgia

Tonight, there’s an edge to the evening chill. I find that I miss New Mexico most intensely in the autumn. IIMG_0269t’s a season marked by fierce clarity of color and texture. There’s an array of sensory information that I associate with each place I’ve been, most of all with places I’ve lived.

I miss the light. I miss the Sandias tumbled like wedges of ripe watermelon on the eastern edge of the city. I miss cloud shadows rolling across a golden landscape–indigo and palpable.

Around this time of year, Albuquerque stops smelling of dust and the teasing hint of rain that evaporates mid fall. It smells of green chiles roasting. After dark, you can walk through neighborhoods starred with light from windows. There are almost always a few people having drinks around a fire pit, and their laughter carries through the dry air.

As the weather becomes cooler, people burn juniper and piñon wood in their fireplaces. The nights are spangled with stars and the thin ghosts of that incense. In New Mexico, this is a season that lingers in memory.

I once asked someone I very much wanted to know, what his favorite scent memory was. Creosote scrub in the sunlight and piñon nuts roasting. It is very hard not to miss that part of him, one I felt was the most intimate.

In spite of everything, I still regard such moments as gifts. IMG_0177Bitter, like the blue juniper smoke. But clean, too, as other parts of my association with him will never be. He is a part of my memories of that desert place–harsh, a testing. Valuable, in spite of its price.


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