Today was a day of smells.
If you’ve ever been anywhere near the South Carolina Lowcountry, you know that she seduces you first through your nostrils, even before you see her. You are intoxicated by her perfume, and no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen her, you fall in love with her all over again. You nestle into the hollow of her neck, you breath deeply, and you know you are home.
Riding down the highway, getting off the interstate and getting through the new roundabouts and finding the causeways that take you toward Beaufort and Port Royal all feel the same. Get past the Whale Branch River, over a gently rising bridge, the school of the same name off to your left, and it hits you. The smell of the marsh, that pungent, sweetly assaulting odor that Pat Conroy seems to write about and get out of the way long before the first chapter of each of his many books has ended.
Our old black lab Holly used to crane her neck and put her sensitive nose straight up into the air at right about that spot, straining and sniffing and one time trying to go right through the sunroof of my car as she made contact with the Lowcountry Lady. She loved the smells of the marsh, the beach, the straw at the high tide mark. It was a world that only dogs know at that level, and that we get a mere whiff of.
Today started with the vague smell of spitting rain, not quite wet but not quite mist, trying to fall but instead seeping out of the sky toward the ground and those of us moving about on it. Musty, vaguely and disorientingly fall-like or even spring-like on February first. It gave way to the smell of the gym for me, walking for a couple of hours, greeting an elliptical devotee, then another tread-miller beside me before I finished and went back to the room for another round of fresh, clean, shower and shampoo smells to get ready for the day.
On to the coffee shop attached to the hotel, and of course the wonderful smells of early morning fresh ground beans and newspapers and oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches and tea. There were conversations, a new friend found in a woman from the Northeast with an open Bible on the table in front of her and a notepad to the side, studying for her group later in the week. People talking and reading and starting the day, bleary eyes primed by caffeine and the rush of sticky bun-fueled blood sugar spikes.
I made my way out through the noncommittal rain to Hunting Island, a wonderful, primal, windswept, tree-lined stretch of beach with a tall lighthouse of black and white and a jungle as prehistoric as any you’ve ever seen in the movies. Driving through it to get to the sand you feel that long green snakes might lower themselves from Spanish moss covered-branches or that a small inquisitive dinosaur might still hide behind a dense patch of ferns ten yards off the road.
Getting out of the car there is to inhale the lushness of it all, the dripping air, the sea salt and seaweed smell of a beach that is not developed. One that is in fact eroding at an alarming rate, just one hundred thirty yards separating the high tide mark from the base of the lighthouse, already moved once in the 1800s and possibly needing to be moved again one day soon. The sand, salt, rain and wind melded into one continuous olfactory experience that cleared my head, my mind, and my spirit for a couple of hours, and let me be blissfully quiet for a time.
Back to town and a series of gustatory experiences with their associated smells tempting and satisfying. Chocolate, so much chocolate, milk and dark and filled and in sheets. Pralines and jelly beans and brittle and boxes being packed in the back, destined for parts unknown. The smell of chocolate made by people who love it, who love the making of it, who love that you love it.
Australian shiraz and bleu cheese and fish and pepper and cranberries and sweet-spicy dressing, followed by strong black coffee. Tastes, yes, but even before that, smells from the kitchen and at the hands of the servers as they pass by to the next table over.
Out to the river for a stroll in the fog which, as Sandberg told us, has crept in on little cat feet as I ate my dinner, causing the day to darken early and the landscape to go surreal. To my left front, there appears to be a Bridge to Nowhere across the Beaufort River, beautifully monochrome and still. Off to the right, a single boatman in a tiny silent skiff moves like a piece of melting ice on a sheet of glass, sliding and gliding out away from the promenade, the only thing on the river that is not completely still in the grayness.
I love this place. I love what it does to me. I love how it has become a part of me over the last quarter century. I love how it simultaneously energizes me and makes me slow down. I love how it makes me notice that nature moves in her own time, in her own way.
I take it all in, these tastes and sights and sounds and lack of sounds, but mostly I take in the smells today.
I lay my head on a fluffy pillow, soft and sweet-smelling and clean, and I settle in for a night of sleep.
A night of dreams.