'Creatures of Air and Scent': Exploring scents of the Equinox in Tea

'Creatures of Air and Scent': Exploring scents of the Equinox in Tea

As the equinox draws near, telltale signs of autumn’s approach are beginning to emerge in the garden, landscape, and air. Showy milkweed pods, reigning treasures of the waning summer garden, have begun to open and release their elegant seed tufts—delicate, milky threads of silk designed precisely to ride the late summer wind. And, while the motherwort, marshmallow, and vervain all went to seed many weeks ago, and no longer flourish themselves, they can be proud of their progeny—their countless fresh-faced minions sprouting in profusion across the garden, growing vigorously in an attempt to establish roots deep enough to weather colder months ahead. Without intervention, these tenacious seedlings will at the very least quadruple their respective species’ presence in the garden next spring.

Then, there is the profusion of purple aster and feathery goldenrod that has just begun to bloom—an event that traditionally signals the beginning of summer’s end, and that we and the pollinators have, laid out before us, the last floral feast of the season. Towering sunflowers have begun to languish, hanging so low now that I’ve begun harvesting the golden petals from one or two heads a day, careful not to disturb the nutrient-rich seeds still ripening: the birds will delight in them in a few month’s time.

Of course, this time of the season is about sheer profusion and creative frenzy—the plants are in full rebellion of anything that would stymie their productivity and march towards reproduction. They are fixated on seed production and root expansion—whether by fruit, or pod, or flower, or rhizome; untamable despite our best attempts to constrain or direct their fierce excess.

You can smell the vegetal chaos of every stage of growth and decay now at play in the garden and beyond—the chlorophyll-richness of fresh new shoots; budding, blooming, and blown flowers; unripe, ripe, and rotting “fruits”; fresh and withered flower heads, leaves, and stems; the sweet, earthy decay of leaf litter—and in this way, via smell, we internalize all of it. As the varying molecules and volatile compounds of vegetal growth and decay make their way into our airways, we process and make meaning of these scents. In doing so, we may discover we have very primal responses to them. They may trigger a kind of creative restlessness, urgency, or feeling of rebelliousness in us, too.

Breathing is a relationship. Scent and the act of smelling is a kind of intimacy. So while there is a tremendous abundance of visual data we might assess at any given moment to help us read our environment, it is ultimately scent that conveys the most accurate and reliable information, and that will move us to most deeply engage with the world.

Scent molecules are little pieces of the world that break off and are inhaled by us (McGee, Nose Dive). These little pieces of the world carry vital information about the environment around us at any given moment, helping us avoid danger, know and plan for what is to come, or reassure ourselves that all is well and safe. Scent has an almost magical power to influence the way we think, feel, perceive, and behave.

Our experiences of scent can both expand and contract our consciousness. As we focus on an inhalation, for example—drawing in the world and dismantling its scent molecules into categories, definitions, and meanings—this process brings our attention inside, close. Though some scents, when encountered, have the power to take our consciousness out to the very limits of our bodily senses by raising our minds and imaginations to the sky and what is beyond. The ancients understood well the power of scent—to sedate, soothe, or stimulate; to transfix, compel, or inspire; to remind and remember. They understood, in short, how much we are creatures of scent and air; that scent has the power to stimulate intense thoughts and feelings, and to “nudge us into being as fully and humanly alive as we can be” (McGee).

Our new fall (and coming winter) teas pay keen attention to the power of scent, and the way seasonal plants and aromas impact and interrelate with us emotionally, physically, and mentally.

Hexe explores the plants and scents of an autumn woodland; Hygge, the delights of transforming October’s pumpkins into magnificently cozy dessert; Virgo embodies harvest time beauty and abundance, offering a taste of lightly roasted tea with tart, wild-gathered berries and warming herbs—perfect for an autumn day; Wild Leaves celebrates the subtle sensorial changes of the fall season—how the scent of grasses, leaves, herbs, and stone transform as temperatures begin to cool and the wind grows drier; and Carnelian reflects on the joys of ambling urban walks through the park or neighborhood to enjoy the changing leaves, and the scents one encounters—all with a favorite thermos of tea in hand, of course.

Copyright © 2024, Andrea Lawse. All Rights Reserved.

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