Russian Olive Memories

Reader Contribution by K.C. Compton
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If anyone had wandered by this morning as I was making my daily rounds with Crazy Puppy, they might have thought I was a couple of spoons short of a table-setting.

There I stood with my face buried in a branch, inhaling deep breaths of the Russian olive tree as though it were a scent created especially for me. And in some ways, it might as well be.

I’m always the first to notice that the Russian olives have blossomed. Some people smell new-mown grass on the air, or the yuck from the Frito-Lay plant just down the road from our office. I’m programmed to recognize the first whiff of Russian olive–and to try to coax my acquaintances into my particular enthusiasm.

In an ongoing demonstration of the power of aromatherapy, Russian olive scent always boosts my spirits and makes me feel ready for anything. Although many people view this wispy, gray tree as nothing more than a very tall weed, for me it’s sensual ambrosia that takes me back to a specific time and place where I felt strong and free and ready.

For a couple of years when I lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I joined a group of other bicyclists early on Sunday mornings throughout as much of the year as the weather permitted, to make a roughly 30-mile loop out to a wonderful café (which I think might have been called the Lone Wolf, but can’t remember right now). We’d ride like hell out, have a cup of coffee and the best breakfast burritos in the world (green chile, please, and lots of it), then meander back into town about the time the rest of the world was waking up.

Although some of the diehards rode throughout the winter, I generally laid out until the season started warming up. Then the Russian olives and I came out of hibernation at roughly the same time.

I never liked riding with a bunch of other people, so I usually arranged to find myself alone on the road. And there in one place I still can imagine with complete clarity, just as I crested a hill and was gulping for air, I was greeted by a wall of fragrance that I soon came to recognize as Russian olive. When I reached that spot, I knew I was more than halfway to the café and still riding strong. I felt so able and so happy to be out there in the air and early morning solitude. It was heavenly, even though the trees only blossomed for a few days. For as long as it blossomed, I made that route my daily ride.

Now, years later, I can walk outside my office these late-spring afternoons and be overcome by the same wall of aroma. I return to my office after my errands and say, “The Russian olives are blooming. Did you smell them?” only to be met by polite, somewhat mystified expressions. Either my co-workers don’t know from Russian olives or that scent just isn’t something on their aromatic radar.

I forget from year to year that there also is a lone Russian olive on the bank of the lower pond out on the farm where I live. Yesterday when CP and I were walking toward the hen house with some awesome strawberry and radish scraps for the chickens, the aroma stopped me in my tracks. I buried my face in the slender, dusty-green leaves and slurped down scent.

Instantly, I was back on that hill, feeling strong, feeling up to the challenge–and ready for that breakfast burrito with lots of green.

I wish I could bottle that aroma. It would be my signature scent.

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