Carob Blossoms

Carob in Bloom
There are two carob trees by my house, a long-married couple, male and female, probably centennials. The male lives right beside my porch and dining room windows. I built the house right next to it on purpose: It gives shade and privacy, and lowers the temperatures in the building  by almost 5 degrees. But nothing is for free in this world, as they say, and the price we pay comes when the carob trees are mating, trying to make little carob "beans", also known to some as St. John's Bread. Carobs are generally edible, but this female produces dry and bland fruit, which only grafting could fix.  

Carob Blossoms
Carob buds, red and innocent, before the open and assault the senses with their pollen and perfume. As you can see, the tree doesn't waste any space and brings flowers from every inch of its body: branches large and small, and even the trunks shoot out little tine columns covered with sulfur-yellow pollen. The female flowers are scentless and just look like clusters of tiny green carobs...

Carob Blossoms

The smell of the male flowers is a nostalgic memory from the many falls I spent as a child playing under these trees and resting in their shade. To me it's a basic childhood memory like glue, pencil shaving and your favourite ice cream bar. However, anyone who comes into contact with these trees after reaching sexual maturity, would find the aroma vulgar if not repulsive. This botanical replica of the juicy secretions of male and female copulating is bang-on. Except for one thing: this botanical orgasm will last for about a month.

P.s. There is a scientific explanation for the sexual smell of carob blossoms: They contain the polyamine Cadaverine,  which is also found in human semen (and cadavers...), which is produced by breaking down the amino acid Lysine. Of course the carob tree does that in order to attract insects that typically feed on cadavers.

Marriage of Life and Death

Earlier this winter, as I went deeper into the forest trails, my eyes met with a devastating sight. After several days of rain and wind storms, two beautiful, tall and rather ancient Douglas fir trees (well over 200 years in my estimate, although this is probably young in fir years) were uprooted and simply flipped over. It's a sad sight, and one that literally pierced my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The air around the trees was filled with their tragedy, and I heard their screams and shrieks of pain from being uprooted and losing their life-giving connection to the earth.

Here is the strange thing about an ancient fallen tree: it dies a slow painful death. Perhaps even move the course of several weeks when in such moist conditions that as the rainforest. Maybe it's not that slow in tree years, but it sure seemed prolonged to me, as I was walking by the same trail several weeks in a row, and still saw signs of life in these two fierce yet fallen giants.

First the roots alone feel the change: they are accustomed to life of darkness and the cold yet nutritious moisture of the earth. All of a sudden they are exposed to the foreign presence of air and light. The tree's equivalent of nervous system must have felt the pain of the roots as they leave the ground and disconnect from the smaller rootlets, and the shock along the tree's spine as it hit the ground. Over the next few days, if not weeks, the tree's storage of moisture will get used up, perhaps slower than before. The roots will attempt to cling to any moisture they reach from the damp rainforest air, but circumstances are largely not in their favour.

I get closer to the tree. Touch its rain-soaked bark. Feel the tremendous pain its in. The tree that once had stood so proud and high above all creatures is now lying horizontally. I can feel its pulse, weak, trembling but still there. I pat the damp moss on the base of its bark and on the formerly superficial portion of its root system. What about all the lesser life forms on the tree? Did they notice the change? Are they worried about their future? Perhaps not. The tree's body will nourish these fungi, fern, lichens and moss strands for countless years to come. And water is present in abundance for these plants from prehistoric kingdoms.

And this is how life meets death. Or perhaps the other way around - death is the one that greets life and reaches out to it. In the rainforest the coexistence of these two opposites is the most obvious, natural. And if it weren't for the drama and tragedy of the storm, those two states of being just weave in and out of each other seamlessly. The trees took about four weeks to use up their water, shut down their entire systems of livelihood, and say their farewells to the world as they lay horizontally and stare at the barren skies through the space their missing canopy left behind. After checking their plus this weekend, I am pretty sure that they are now among the dead. Not only are the needles no longer green, many have already began falling to the ground. And there is something you cannot see, but only feel, that tells me they are now just inanimate objects, vegetal corpses providing nutrients to the new generation of trees, bushes, housing birds and squirrels, bugs and microorganisms that will take many years to penetrate the strong essential oils in the heartwood to completely break it down. It will become, eventually, part of the soil and part of the root system of those new plants and create an intricate piece of the rainforest ever changing landscape. 

We humans are strange creatures. Life should be life; and death should be plain and simple, cut and dry. But how many of us live in a state of a dream (or a nightmare) and constantly attempt to escape the present moment? How much of our lives we wish we were somewhere else than where we are, and be someone else - or be with somebody else than the people and creatures that are present in our lives? I am beginning to think that constant discontent with the present moment is the root of all illnesses. That and the lack of gratitude to what IS in our lives, what is present, what we "have" so to speak (at the end of the day, I don't believe ownership truly amounts to much). That obsession of what would happen next - after we finish work, or after we finish resting; after we finish living, or once we stop dying. This mindset is so futile, counter-productive and ultimately shows very little gratitude. We should be thankful every moment that we are alive, and literally, live up to what that entails. 

Death of a Perfume Blogger

“On the stone an ancient hand
In a faded yellow-green
Made alive a worldly wonder
Often told but never seen

Before the fall when they wrote it on the wall

When there wasn't even any Hollywood

They heard the call
And they wrote it on the wall

For you and me we understood…

(Steely Dan, “The Caves of Altamira”)

Blogs are not people, and even though they reflect some part of a person's life, there are some things that can never be told or seen through this virtual window to their soul.

And how many times did you click through your web links only to
find out that your favourite scent blog didn't have a new entry at all in the past week? How many times did the thought "oh no, maybe s/he died this week" pass your mind silently only to be ignored by another thought "Why does so and so ever bother to keep a blog if they let it go stale for so long?!".

While the later thought is admittedly rude and judgemental (things
do happen in life, you know, outside of that 13" wide MacBook of yours (Gheesh, go get a life now dammit!), the initial one is strangely realistic and rational.

And who is going to start a paragraph with an “And”, now that we learned of the tragic and terrible news of the tragic death of Ms. Theresa Duncan. Who is going to quote mostly Steely Dan to open a perfume review. And why did I need to have the “wit of the staircase to only link to her blog now that she’s dead, and not before when it might just make her ever so slightly happier. Perhaps just enough to stay alive.

The news of death of a fellow blogger, even if one I’ve never communicated with directly (well, I did try to leave a comment a couple of times, but I haven’t the faintest clue if it came through). Communication is the message you get. And I definitely got plenty of messages from Theresa Duncan. And even if I don’t know her in person, at least I know a few things about her which are meaningful enough for me to include in this post.

Theresa started most of her perfume reviews with a quote.
Theresa usually mentioned the perfume she reviewed only once in the blog entry about it.
Theresa always picked quite bizarre and at times provocative and stunningly beautiful photographs that were borderline fashion and art. The last image she posted was called "fireworks" and looked like this.
The last perfume she reviewed was Aria di Capri by Carthusia.
Theresa loved many of Serge Lutens perfumes. Far more than any other blogger I’ve read.
Theresa had one talented way of expressing her thoughts and memories and link them to perfume. I may have not been able to relate to them all, or fully understand them, but I sure feel that she opened one intimate window into her soul by writing about them for us all to read.
Theresa seemed to have changed her writing style slightly recently, speaking as “we” rather than “me” or “I”. She even mentioned a “Mr. Wit”. She seemed to be in love.
Theresa’s last quote was from the Koran.

Theresa also seemed to mention or think about God, the spiritual and the metaphysical quite often recently – in the quote from the Koran, the reference to the creation of light, as well as a previous post related to Kabbalaa (By the way: in Hebrew, Kala means bride).
Theresa loved the sun and loved California. She hated New York. And this is where she died.
Theresa loved Steely Dan. So do I.
The last Steely Dan quote Theresa used was from “Rose Darling”.
So let’s close our eyes and listen to it now (really, close your eyes so you don't see the afwul montage… Sorry for lack of a visually better version). Wherever you are, Theresa, may your soul be at peace and enjoy the loveliest perfumes, words and music.

Related links:
Theresa's Last Post on Wit of the Staircase
Interview on LAist.com
Interview on Salon.com
Jeremy Blake's work
Jeremy Blake on IMDB.com
New York Times July 21 2007
New York Daily News July 21st 2007
LAObserver July 19th 2007
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