It's late July, 2009. Warm thick air carry dozens of insects across the impossible stars up and down this street. The sodium lights, are so bright, however, that the insects shadows are impossible to see. I drive down the street, slowly, and crawl nearly to a stop where a honeysuckle vine climbs the remains of a long dead tree stump. The stump is thin for these parts. Where many are five and six feet across, this one is only a few feet wide, and carries instead of the girth of its previous self, a riot of stem, flower, and burning placental photosynthetic hunger. I slow the vehicle, for I have been thinking, and feeling, with a mystical intensity all my own, hidden placental dreams, stretching from my most active growing place, my human mind and heart. Plants, and fungus, and the history of us... we lifeforms have been on my mind, heart and soul. From the songs at the school that come from my lungs, to the sodium lit theater that slides past my car window (unless I command it to stop) I am seeing and feeling things I had not known before.
This past few weeks I have been watching this galloping honeysuckle fill space and time, according to its own set of claims.
Years earlier I had seen this sort of plant growing in December, before the frost would kill it. So, being the fragrant, Asian import that I knew it to be, I watched it in wonder, flowering constantly from spring to this dark honeyed evening, when not even the moon would touch its flowers... but its yearning could be seen, for something vertical, to hold, and to hold to.
I've watched this plant, while coming and going from ten or twelve houses in this near southern neighborhood in my town. This street is one I have walked, bicycled, and driven on all eleven years of my time here. When I stand still, and look to the faces in the cars that pass by, I see familiar ones, most of them concentrating on the narrow street, and the dangers such an thin artery portends. Flashing by, their faces I see... sometimes wishing I might say hello; sometimes glad for their passing. This is their road too, and they and I are why there is a town. So hard to remember. Yet, how could it be otherwise?
I had passed, four days prior, a woman who met me this spring in my garden. Out walking her dog, as she had been when she passed me the first time, she had inquired if I might do some work on her home. My sisters wedding was a few weeks away, but I desired to pack as much work in as possible, so I told her, provided I could get the job done, without much waiting, I'd be glad to bid the job the following day. My bid was accepted, and the week prior to my sister, Mary's, wedding was spent juggling the complexities of three job sites... all of them with that magnificent honeysuckle, in somewhat cancerous embrace of the light and air, between them. How filled the mind becomes with the fears, desires and claims of ones' clients, and yet how much more room there always can be, for the ghostly miracles of our fellow life forms. I passed that Honeysuckle that night, after finishing up the dog lady's bathroom remodel, and was on my way, after buying a sandwich to try to put a bathroom tile job away. I had something like seven hours to get it done. The honeysuckle murmured in its shape and intention to me, something like, "good luck, you earnest lost boy." Some people who get migraines, get them from honeysuckle. You don't want to live in southern Indiana, if you can get a headache from a flowery smell. At night especially the white flowers reek of perfume, and some of it is meant for the sort of things more appropriate to Halloween, then a childs dreaded return to the classroom. Oh well... sorry kid, maybe one day you can work all day, then learn that you have to tear apart two days of preparation to prepare a bathroom wall for the latest greatest fickle pleasure of a customer. All the bells of a lazy, fall school day would have rung, by the time I get the concrete board cut and back up after tearing it down for the new plumbing, chosen at the last minute.... that is, the minute when the owner realized how much better a bathroom with nothing in it looks, then the one that most of us spend our lives using. Actually, I still feel sorry for you, kid. I'd rather work sixteen hours then spend one day in school. (I promise I'll never tell my children that. Though I have a feeling I'm going to have to lie.)
I pull into an alley, at right angles to the Honeysuckle's street, and drive toward the back of my clients lot. Behind the old, low, one story framed home, is a large fenced in back yard (chain link) with a spacious cinderbloc two car garage behind that. Thick along the entirety of the fence, I see with a smile on my lips, the vines of grapes, running perhaps two hundred feet around the yards periphery. When I exit the car, in the twilight I can see, the small bundles of ripe fruit and I caress their bloomed surfaces with my hand, wondering when I will first be able to leave the bathroom tile in its mastic and come out to pick the tender fruit, it's wet musky juice and bitter crunching seeds crushed between my lips and teeth, and the odd wealth of the summer heavy on the arch of my aching workday shoulders. Not nearly soon enough, I could tell anyone who'd listen.
No one is listening, however, and the house is silent as I turn the key in its arthritic lock. Opening the door I smell the work of many decades of mold... a sweet tang, like composted citrus... mild and virtually below the radar of what my friends tell me is normal. I get the feeling that most people think this smell is wood. What it really is, is the slowly aerosolized resins of the woods, by the action of fungus. The fungus lives everywhere as a spore, and one day, resting on the surface of of wooden board, warmed by central heating, moisture leaks through a foundation mortarblock, and gives the fungal spore life... which it spends growing for as long as the woods remains wet... which in Indiana is damned near forever. As the fungus works its way through the wood, the laboratory of its inner mechanisms parse, digest, and release all manner of energy, and usefulness from the building blocks of the wood. Heavy metals, and certain toxic substances, as well as other chemicals, it discards, out of preference for the cellulose, and other complexed sugars and alcohols of the wood. The esters and rosins that make up the protective chemicals in the wood, meant to ward off insects, the fungus releases as "gases" and sprays of aromatic compounds. This is what you smell when you open the tupperware and see that dark blue, sporulating pennicillin growing on your organic bread, one week after you stopped eating it. Sometimes... as with bread, it's a musty set of aromatic compounds... cardboardy, and wet paperish. It's more or less a bad smell. And very consistent with our disgust and recognition of mold. In fact, it's a slight component of the mushroomy connotation, when one imagines the smell of a portobella. Yet... within the house, as I ascend the stairwell, to the main floor from the basement, where I have a key to enter, there is this liberated wood ester smell: where the tree obtained the fatty acids to produce them ninety years ago, I'm going to have to remember to discover one day... but for now, they are pleasantly vying with the mildewed basement boxes and rugs for a place of preferred prominence, prior to my opening of the tile mastic, where industrial solvents... most, but not all, derived from fossil fuels, not fungus, will rise to my olfaction, leaving the fungus to itself, in any case, within the confines of my somatic sanctuary.
(to be continued...)