Every once in a while I get a whiff of something in the air here that smells like sweet tea. It greeted me two years ago when I first came to California, with my bags, early in the summer, as I stepped off the plane and took in my first big breath of Californian air. I was here only temporarily, then. So I didn’t investigate. But I smelled it a lot, even far away from SFO, in Los Altos, where I lived, at Moffett Field, where I worked, so I deduced it must be growing everywhere. I didn’t tell anybody then, but I pretty much decided that that was the smell of California. And it was a smell that I loved.
So I came back.
Of course, you get used to these things, so most of the time, that tinge is gone from the air, but at some places it’s more concentrated. And then, I’m happy, and I look for it. I told someone once about this Mystery Plant and they told me it was probably the eucalyptus tree, so I went around smelling eucalyptus trees and came to the conclusion that it was definitely something else, not a eucalyptus tree, not a tree at all– a shrub.
I bike 11 miles to work in Aptos. It takes me an hour along the coast, through Live Oak, Capitola Village, Soquel, and a good bit of Aptos. I stayed for 5 hours today. 4 students. That was the most I’ve worked continuously since I got here. Anyways, on my way over to Aptos I pass by some pretty scenic locales, and I listen to my ipod. So I came up with the idea that I would record the trip on my helmet cam and set it to the music on my playlist. I haven’t decided if I actually want to make it an hour long yet. Probably not if anyone else is going to have to see it besides me. And I don’t own a helmet cam, so this is still a long ways away. About 2/3 of the way to Aptos I find myself oftentimes drifting through a patch of this sweet-smelling air. I stop and look around; I poke my nose in some shrubs. But I’m on the side of the road and I’ve got to move on and there’s lots of smells so I’ve never located the source there.
2 weekends ago I went with Chris on a hike in Henry Cowell. When you come out of the redwood groves and curve away from the river, the trail starts climbing with some vigor and pretty soon you find yourself above the tree line and walking in almost ankle deep white sand. Henry Cowell State Park occupies an area in the Santa Cruz Mountains which had once been a part of the ancient sea bed. Apparently the soil in this region is 90% sand and not highly nutritious. The sides of the trail are lined with hardy, sand-covered shrubs. It was a very strange sight. Of course, among these shrubs was our very own Mystery Plant. With Chris’s help, and in a serene environment, where I was able to focus, this time, I nailed it. This was a pretty big moment for me, not in the least dampened by the dinkiness of the actual plant’s appearance with its pointy leaves and its tiny white flower buds. I took a sprig of it home to aid in identification.
Despite my usual success with Google, for some reason, my searches have come up empty. I’ve looked into all the variations of “sweet smelling californian plant” and “scented shrub with tiny flowers and pointy leaves” I could think of, but nothing that looks like my plant so far has surfaced. If anyone out there knows the name of this little plant, leave me a comment. I’d like to plant it in my garden eventually, but for now, I’ve got this sprig. It’s all dried up, and its leaves are falling off, but it still fits perfectly in the palm of my hand, and it still smells like California.