At dusk all the edges of the pond are lighted with the white candles of the clethra. Its fragrance has in it that fine essence which goes to the making of the nectar and ambrosia of the gods. He who would sup with them may do so by taking canoe of an early August twilight when the purple arras of the coves glow softly golden with the reflected light of the sunset's afterglow. Then the coarser air seems to have let the light slip from between its clumsy particles, leaving its more ethereal essence still clinging to a more subtle interatomic fluid.
The fragrance of the clethra seems always to me as fine as this spirit of light in the ambrosial twilight of the ripened summer. It is no air-borne delight like the resinous scent of the forest pines or the pasture sweet-fern when the hot sun of midday distills them and the hot wind of midday sends them far to you across the quivering fields. It is something finer, softer, more silkily subtle, which, like the rose gold of the afterglow of the sunset, tints the dusk of the cove between the air atoms, not by way of them.
Then, as the gold glimmers and fades and the pink faints in the cooling purple of the dusk, and the outline of the cove shore slips from the front of your eye to the chambers of memory behind it, so that you else might see it best with the eyes shut, the white candles are lighted and the eager moth sees by them to sup with you and me and the gods on this essence of ambrosia, to tipple on .this spirit of nectar which the night reserves for those that love it.
I do not know why the clethra which gleams so white in the dusk should need anything more than its own white beauty to call the moth to its wooing. Perhaps it does not need more. Perhaps all this fine fragrance is but the overflow of its soul's delight at being young and chastely beautiful, and trembling in the ultra violet darkness on that delicious verge of life that waits the wooer. I half fancy that this is true of all perfume of flowers, that it is less a call to butterfly or bee to come to their winning than it is a radiation of delight from their own pure hearts at the dawning of the full joy of living. I am not always willing to take the word of the scientific investigator on these points as final. The scientists of the not very remote past have known so much that is not so!
It is possible that, just as a huntingdog picks up a scent that is strong in his nostrils and has no power in ours, so the flowers that we call scentless send out an odor too faintly fine for our senses, yet one that the antennae of math or bee may entangle as it passes and hold for a certain clue. Perhaps the scents that are only faint to us carry far for the butterfly, but if so, and if flower perfumes are made only for the calling of insects, why need they be made so intoxicating to the human senses? The scent of carnations is as pleasing to the soul as a strain of beautiful music, and equally arouses high aspirations and noble longings. So to me the odor of the clethra at nightfall is a tenuous thread of ethereality that reaches far toward a realm of spiritual ideals. It ought to go with a ritual and a vested choir.
Fragrance of Clethra by Winthrop Packard