(image from LA Times)
I was pleased to see a little article from the LA Times about the allure of jasmine (especially their reference to an earlier piece about it as the harbinger of spring in LA) because I have been soaking it in the past three weeks on my walk to work. One of the true pleasures of living close enough to work to be able to walk (in LA of all places), is getting a chance to engage in the world up close and through all five senses. You are provided a chance to follow that tried and true advice to stop and smell the flowers. And, about two minutes into my walk to work, a mature jasmine vine towers over a front fence, permeating the street with its sweet scent. Or, in the more eloquent words of LA Times staffer Emily Green:
It might happen tonight. Or tomorrow. But it won't happen gradually. It will come all at once. All over Los Angeles, the first pink buds of jasmine will erupt into sprays of new white flowers. The display will be chaste enough for a wedding arbor -- until nightfall. Then those blameless blossoms will let rip with a decidedly frank perfume, a mix of sweetness and musk that will refuse to be upstaged by any other smell L.A. can throw at it. Exhaust. Fire. Freshly manured lawns. At that moment, the first great swelling of spring will rise over the city in a sudden night fog of jasmine.
It is definitely the most memorable part of my walk in the early morning, and one of the most of my entire day. I look forward to it each morning eagerly, and sorely miss it on those few days I need my car. Walking past the jasmine each morning also left me intrigued by measurements of seasonality in a climate like Southern California. How do we mark the seasons in Los Angeles, and stand witness to the passing cycles of nature? For the rest of the country, we mark it by weather, and obvious visual cues. Winter is white, cold, dark, snowy, and full of "barren" landscapes. Spring provides wet rains, warming temperatures, and the leafing out of new growth, while Summer is the bonanza of hot, sun-filled days. Fall marks the arrival of a chill in the air, and the changing colors of deciduous leafs as they prepare to drop for the winter. But how do we understand the passing of the seasons in a place like Southern California, where seasonal temperature shifts are subtle, and where, due to moderate temps and constant irrigation, our landscape remains largely unchanged to the eye? Where life continues "uninterrupted" by weather?
Smelling the jasmine every morning left me thinking that perhaps, here, our appreciation for the seasons might be measured by other senses. Perhaps our seasons can be understood by smell, even the smell produced by an exotic plant such as jasmine. The smell of its new flowers resulting from winter rains and just enough of a chill to shoot out a rich bouquet to attract pollinators. Perhaps we can remember Spring is coming each year by the smell of jasmine. Or, as Emily Green added in her great piece about it:
We no longer need jasmine for the historic reasons: to cover up bad smells of open sewers and unbathed bodies. However, in so many other ways, we need jasmine more than ever, first for the romance, but also to pierce our infernal sophistication. Jasmine seduces us back into a state where we are capable of wonder at the pulses of the natural world. Aroused, we are suddenly alerted to the profound mysteries unfolding nightly in our own backyards.