I woke up this morning to a brilliant sky, cold and clear. When Vince and I stepped out for our morning walk, I caught a whiff of something on the wind that it took me a moment to recognize. It was familiar but strangely out of place; something not quite a perfume yet a grassy smell, not quite an incense yet it made me think of blessingways. Finally my nose caught on: sweetgrass. Pungent sweetgrass hung low over the street like it had just been harvested from the fields, or lingered after burning for hours in some temple nearby.
But there are no temples on my street, no crops to speak of, and no one burns sweetgrass to stay warm in the bayside frost. The town is not that big, there was no accounting for the sweet smell that accompanied me halfway up the hill and down again. Heading home again I gazed out as I do almost every day across the bay, beyond the headlands, to the wild ocean. A filmy gauze of high clouds bent like the arm of a long spiral whose center was far out over the Pacific, and the crazy thought crossed my mind that maybe the sweetgrass smell had blown in from very far away.
I have now spent a full year living on the edge of the mighty Pacific. Like a new neighbor I have been courteous and friendly, happy to talk but not overly probing in our acquaintance so far. Getting to know the ocean is something I imagine is fundamentally impossible within the span of a human life, so I am content to approach it slowly and savor the moments of closeness as they come, letting them gradually pile up and take shape. Merely having an affinity for the ocean does not make me presume familiarity.
Still, this morning I had the distinct impression of the ocean as a bit of a trickster, picking up scents from around the Pacific Rim and depositing them at random points on the opposite shore. Maybe a fisherman in Japan woke to the aroma of chocolate from Ghiradelli Square. Maybe someone in Juneau felt certain she smelled hot curry on the wind. That long, spindly arm of cloud has a large wooden mixing spoon in her hand, and those of us on the edge of the bowl get the first taste of all her new flavor combinations.
At the turning of this new year, I am standing on the edge of the world breathing in deep. It is not just the sweetgrass, harbinger of new beginnings, that I smell. There is salt water for purification and cleansing, not brackish but full of life from the swelling moon. There is an earthy, slightly green smell from the dark soil heavy with rain. Not a spring green smell but a winter green, wet and chill, a placeholder in the air for the pungent, sprouting smell of new growth we will get in a couple months. Above it all is a skittish, flitting scent of burning tobacco. Maybe someone out of view is greeting the new day with a prayer, or a morning smoke.
Pipe dreams, that’s what all our New Year’s hopes and wishes are. We hope for the best at the beginning and work the rest of the year on accepting whatever comes. We are audacious and bold, setting forth with our best foot forward as we walk off that cliff with all the other fools. Because what better move is there? The future will always be uncertain, and we are grand mammals with even grander dreams and visions. In this year, may the best of them all come true.