Odours of the Forest-Dallas Lore Sharp


The odors (we should spell them with a “u”)—the odours of the big woods are so clean and pure and prophylactic! They clear the clogged senses, and keep them in a kind of antiseptic bath, washing a coated tongue as no wine can wash it; and tingling along the most snarled of nerves, straightening, tempering, tuning them till the very heart is timed to the singing of the firs. My bed of boughs was a full foot deep, covering every inch of the bottom of the tent, fresh cut that evening, and so bruised with the treading as we laid them that their smell, in the close, rainy air of the night, filled the tent like a cloud. I lay and breathed as if taking a cure, this tent being the contagious ward of the great hospital, the Out-of-Doors. All around me poured the heavy, penetrating vapor distilled from the gums, and resins, and oils, and sweet healing essences of the woods, mingled here in the tent with the aromatic balsam of the fir. I breathed it to the bottom of my lungs; but my lungs were not deep enough; I must breath it with hands and feet to get it all; but they were not enough. Then a breeze swept by the tent, pausing to lay its mouth over my mouth, and, catching away my little breath, breathed for me its own big breath, until my very bones, like the bones of the birds, were breathing, and every vein ran redolent of the breath of the fir. That breeze blew the sharp, pungent smell of wood smoke past the tent. I caught it eagerly—the sweet smoke of the cedar logs still smoldering on the fire. There was no suggestion of hospitals in this whiff, but camps, rather, and kitchens, altars, caves, the smoke of whose ancient fires is still strong in our nostrils and cured into the very substance of our souls. I wonder if our oldest racial memory may not be that of fire, and if any other form of fire, a coal off any other altar, can touch the imagination as the coals of a glowing camp-fire. And I wonder if any other odor takes us farther down our ancestral past than the smell of wood smoke, and if there is another smoke so sweet as cedar smoke, when the thin, faint wraith from the smoldering logs curls past your tent on the slow wind of the woods and drifts away. It does not matter of what the fire is built. I can still taste the spicy smoke of the sage-brush in my last desert camp. And how hot that sage-brush fire! And as sweet as the spicy sage, is the smell in my nostrils of the cypress and gum in my camp-fires of the South. Swamp or desert or forest, the fire is the lure—the light, the warmth, the crackle of the flames, and the mystic incense of the smoke rising as a sweet savor to the deities of the woods and plains. It is the camp-fire that lures me to the woods when I might go down to the sea. I love the sea. Perhaps I fear it more; and perhaps I have not yet learned to pitch my tent and build my fire upon the waves; certainly I have not yet got used to the fo'c's'le smell. For, of all foul odors known to beast or man, the indescribable stench of the fo'c's'le is to me the worst. What wild wind of the ocean can blow that smell away? When bilges are sprayed with attar of roses, and fo'c's'les sheathed in sandalwood, and sailors given shower-baths and open fires, I shall take a vacation before the mast; but until then give me the woods and my fir-bough bed, and my fire of birch and cedar logs, and the rain upon my tent.