First, you must know that I bought Microsoft in 1987. Years later, I invested a portion of my winnings in a scientist with a lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Not where they make the bombs, but a smaller lab with its own large garden.
This scientist, who understands that Ireland is but an hour away, is named Tom or Dick or Harry, and he taught me how to distinguish scents.
He brought me into his garden. All gardens are Eden and no garden has a snake that will tempt you further than you are capable of going. There never has been such a one but unless you have at least once joined in the hallucinations of your dying father, you will never know this.
Tom, Dick or Harry, the scientist, has studied chemistry at Yale and in Findhorn, which is in Scotland, where they keep the magic.
Every day, for a month, he escorted me to a seat at the center of his circular garden. There he blindfolded me and stepped away, leaving me to listen for the rustle of a nameless snake. And to use my nose.
From a short distance he sent one fragrance at a time in my direction, sometimes using carrier bees. He usually removed their stingers but not always and I often wonder if the twitch I experience in upscale restaurants isn’t due to our lessons with rosemary and dill.
As I said, he would send the scent of basil my way. First a leaf. Then a crushed leaf. Then a flowering sprig. Then a Neapolitan pizza.
“Find and describe the basil,” he would say.
Because I’d once owned a small dog, I understood that to find with the nose is to hurry some, inhaling small, quick doses, the nose, as it were, to the ground. Sniff sniff sniff, nostril flare, something else there? No? Stay focused. To distinguish is to find one from all the rest.
“It smells broad and green,” I said. I did not hear the snake, also green, but narrow, insidious. You can’t blame snakes for being snakes. Snakes do not blame you and if they do, they are not snakes and can be dealt with accordingly. Know this. Sniff it out.
Then he would send the oregano. A leaf. A crushed leaf fresh; a crushed leaf dry. “Compare and contrast.”
“The fresh contains water. It runs along the sides of my tongue where bitter kisses hide and unshed tears reside,”
“Ah,” he said. The air so still I could feel his nod. “And the dry?”
“The dry smells of history and of the day I left WNEW for life in the desert. It smells of a song already sung.”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Dry oregano smells of opera heard on the radio. It catches in the ears, not the mouth, but how? Now think this through.”
How, I wondered then and wonder still. How? How does scent infiltrate memory if not through song?
What I did not learn from science is this: How do you distinguish the scent of memory from the smell of regret?
“…in the throat?”
The whiff of longing from the odor of living?
“…in the eye?”
He would not say. Always, the answers were to come from me. Is it any wonder the experiment lasted only one month. Seasons require reciprocity. And seasons pass.
They say the heart is the only center, but I am not so sure. Maybe I will buy another dog and go home. Or invite the snake home for dinner. Those bright-eyed charmers with their double tongues, inhaling and tasting both at once…
What I will do is leave this desert, step over the circumference of this circle and grow another garden, snake-free and illuminated.