Of our five senses, the sense of smell is the most provocative, don’t you think? After all, which of your other sense has the incredible power to transport you to distant places or conjure up long-forgotten memories so quickly?
Or is it just me?
It isn’t too often anymore (ever?!) that I long for the land of my youth (particularly now that winter is descending on that little slice of the Midwestern pie). But once in a while, something triggers me to recall a life almost forgotten, buried beneath the layers of experiences acquired in the decades that have passed since I left those seemingly halcyon days behind.
Especially one thing. And it hits me every time. And takes me back. Fast. It is also something that is so rare on this rock as to be almost non-existent. Like rainy days or actually finding bananas at the grocery store.
What is this “oh-so-rare” occurrence? The smell of fresh-cut grass.
Of course, living on a desert rock in the Caribbean pretty much excludes such a scent from ever existing. After all, we do not have lush, green lawns due to the climate. You could try growing your own indulgent grassy expanse, but your water bills would kill you before you ever took a single barefoot stroll (and we haven’t even discussed the roaches and scorpions that would surely be your walking companions … ick). Also, any scraggly green sprouts that have the temerity to pop up will quickly be devoured by goats, iguanas or donkeys.
So, we settle for gardens covered with rocks and stone. And weeds … at least if you have a less-than-efficient gardener who you keep on because his English is really good. (Life’s all about trade-offs, right?)
But once in a while (it has actually only happened twice since I’ve lived here), you catch a whiff of fresh-cut grass. Usually in the midst of the rainy season, when those who persevere with trying to grow a lawn are rewarded for their efforts. (And then respond by chopping all that lush greenness down with a weed whacker or, if they’re living large, a proper lawnmower. Makes no sense, right? Grow it just to cut it.)
The other time it happens is when somebody skips the stone landscaping altogether in favor of an au naturel backyard. Then they neglect their dirt oasis for so long than it turns into a jungle-like arena that would make any Amazonian proud. Pets are lost in the overgrowth. A machete is required to reach the laundry lines. Weeds tower above the shared six foot cement wall. You get the picture.
We have such a neighbour. Two actually. And as luck would have it, they are both directly upwind of our swimming pool.
It usually annoys me when their sporadic garden cleaning occurs (oh, and the two neighbors never do it in unison, unfortunately). Why does it vex me so? Because I am guaranteed to spend an afternoon skimming the pool of tiny grass bits (although it does give me a great justification for mixing up a rum cocktail before five … you know, to make the work go faster … or at least make it seem like the work is going faster).
Reason number two is that when their dogs are camouflaged by sky-high weeds, my brainiac dog can’t see them. And what he can’t see, he doesn’t bark at. Which ensures that we have quiet times at our casa. But once their garden is reduced to a dirt field that resembles a poorly maintained baseball diamond? Sweet baby Jesus help us … my dog assumes a permanent position on the pool deck and barks. Incessantly. More rum required (for us, not the dog).
But since the neighbors’ gardens were both starting to resemble something from Jurassic Park, I suspected the clearing ritual would be happening soon. I girded my loins in preparation of the inevitable pool cleaning extravaganza that was coming my way. Woot, woot.
But, as life tends to go, some fairly bad news rocked my world that made me forget about messy pools. Or barking dogs. Or pretty much anything else.
And, in the midst of deciding whether I should a) just say fuck it and drown my sorrows in the bottle of Mount Gay rum left behind by last week’s houseguest or b) forge ahead with work to keep myself busy (I think we all know which choice I will make, don’t we?), I stepped out on the back terrace to clear my head. Which is when I heard the instantly recognizable sound of a gas powered weed trimmer.
Yes, neighbor #1 had chosen this day, of all days, to restore his kingdom to the barren dirt landscape he seems to adore. Yay.
But then it hit me. The scent of fresh-cut grass. Or fresh-cut weeds mimicking the scent of grass, as the case may be. Either way, it was unexpected.
And it made me smile. And reminisce. And conjure up fragments of memories from decades ago. Memories that made me smile and remember easier days, when my younger self had no idea that someone could suffer to the point of giving up altogether.
And as I inhaled deeply, I also realized that life is full of ups and downs, good news and bad. Sometimes really bad. But we always make it through, don’t we? At least that is the hope.
And that’s the beauty of it all, I think. That if you just hold on through the bad shit, there will be something better waiting for you. Eventually. That giving up in the throes of the horrible makes it impossible (literally) to enjoy the better that is certain to come along later.
So I spent a few minutes inhaling and enjoying the innocence of youth drifting by in the breeze. And I felt better.
But then, as quickly as it arrived, the scent was gone. The wind died, and I snapped back to the present. And I didn’t choose either option a) or b) to deal with the news I had just received. Instead, I went to the beach.
Because right now, in the life I am living at this very moment, the thing guaranteed to remind me that any current problem is just a temporary blip in the universe, is the sight, scent and sound of the sea rolling gently onto the sandy shore.
And all of it together – the fresh-cut grass, the ocean, the beach – collectively reminded me that the trials and tribulations of this life (or at least this day) might be a total crap sandwich served with a side of rotten, but they are also temporary. Good news will follow. Eventually. You just have to hang in there.
And keep smiling while you’re skimming the pool. A rum cocktail doesn’t hurt, either.
Also published on Medium.