The taxi turned right onto the lane that leads up to our home. Towering goldenrod pressed in from the left while light-seeking branches reached in from the right funneling the car into the center of an already narrow pass. The driver wound cautiously up, passing a thicket of bamboo, then a grove of cedar, and finally emerged onto an open hilltop with views down to the bay of Karatsu. He pulled into our driveway, rolled to a stop and there we were, back in Mirukashi after months away. As the car door swung open I took in a deep breath, delighted by the powerfully perfumed air. unbeknownst and unplanned, I had arrived in time to catch the majestic Osmanthus tree in bloom.
In October, when the landscape is painted golden hues of yellow by ripening rice, goldenrod, and autumn Ginko leaves, the Osmanthus tree, known as kinmokusei in Japanese, sends forth thousands of tiny apricot colored flowerets. They burst from delicate stems like tiny fireworks and cast wide a pure and perfect perfume. Floral, honeyed and sweet, it tastes just like it smells a friend told me, and encouraged me to make a syrup with the flowers. As I hunted around for ideas and recipes I found a lovely blog post written by my herbalist friend Miho, of Tea Suu. She teaches a wildcraft tea workshop for our Spring Bounty salon session and I followed her lead.
I spent an afternoon plucking small flowers by the palmful in the dim bower of the stately tree. My mind wandered towards how I would describe it. I would mention the sunlight piercing the thick canopy, striking clusters of florets and lighting them up such that they seemed to glow from within. I would mention the tiny blossoms that rained down on me as I jostled the branches. But I felt at a loss to perfectly describe the singular defining attribute of this tree, aroma. Fragrance is a profound and powerful sensation, the experience of which language feels particularly inept to communicate. I can write what I see, each word a stroke on the page, arranged and rearranged, elaborated or erased, until they elicit a vision of what’s before me. But I cannot so easily, or with any ease at all really, write what I smell. Fragrance seems to bypass analysis and interpretation, reaching directly towards a deep and primal place where sense, emotion, and memory dwell outside of the empirical. One can only circle around it with the figurative and metaphorical – a grandmother’s hug, a ripe fuzzy apricot warmed by early summer sun, the lid lifting from a jar of honey.
All the flowers I picked that day now float in a jar of perfumed syrup, ready to employ in something tasty and inventive. Cocktails come to mind, while the internet favors jams, cakes, and jellies. From that first inhale, the rhythms of Mirukashi have pulled me right back into a steady stream of micro-seasonal delights, familiar sights and scents beckoning me towards new endeavors. Each passing year promises the return of things familiar, but amidst the reliable repetition is an abundance of the new, first experiences and ample opportunities to discover and explore.