In this practice, David Haskell explores five ways to experience trees through aroma. Without countermeasures from herbivores, these bitter chemicals bind proteins and disrupt digestion. I salvaged the wood from the municipal burn pile, a pit dug into the sandstone. No piss oaks for them, just white oaks from America or Europe. The result is a white, frothy ooze that has a sweet, fermenting odor similar to beer. No vanilla smell at all. Prolonged inhalation of wood smoke ravages our heart and blood vessels, kills infants, and stunts lungs. Peppery sting in sinuses. Our nervous systems yearn for this aromatic promise of satiety.

What, tree, is your name? Sign up to our newsletter and receive more stories like this each Sunday morning! Jesus became the Christ, khrīstós, anointed with olive oil. Oak firewood, red wine, well-steeped tea. A hint of lemon rind rolls close behind.

The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. The unending plenitude of olive oil is the ecological foundation of the miracle of the Jerusalem Temple, giving us the Festival of Lights. The form of fruit is a tree’s answer to animal aesthetics. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, and winner, in its Chinese translation, of the 2016 Dapeng Nature Writing Award. The car interior is now a chemistry experiment: monoterpenes originally from trees blend with ozone, all held inside an enclosed space. Inescapable.

My oak-sniffing is amateur, an apprentice’s coarse taxonomy. Fir trees and holidays. Its exhalations cling high in my nose, a bitter sinus-cloud. A circle of golden leaves on the ground marks the extent of the canopy, an imprint that will be raked away by evening.

Laurus nobilis, the European cousin of California bay laurel, is a staple of Mediterranean stews and soups. Young trees benefit from two or three smaller feedings over spring and summer. The light of Allah in the Qur’an is like that of the lamp oil from a blessed olive tree. The spikey, herbal odor of European juniper berries. For a better experience, please enable JavaScript in your browser before proceeding. A verdant smell, like springtime grasses and freshly-cut artichoke. Herbs, steeped in light butter. The knots inside us loosen. Years later, I feel the tree’s touch resting inside me. I love it for its defiance. Gasoline byproducts and nitrogen oxides stream from tailpipes. The refashioned molecule, blended with other beetle aromas, summons a mob of other beetles. The ice-cream truck across the street runs its generator all day, into the night. Reply to me in our dialect. Then, on the plate, bay reveals the dual nature of smell and taste. I heft the limb to the side of the trail and return to the earthy aroma that enfolds the rest of this huge, gnarled tree. To smell a tree is to know that a tiny part of another being has entered and clasped us. The tree weathers the chemical and physical assaults of urban life and is a favorite of urban horticulturalists. In winter, flows of resin slow and the cold restrains the liveliness of aromatic molecules. The population persists on a strip of land hardly wider than a couple of trees’ branch span. Earth and sky converse. These human-friendly trees had large, oily fruits with a full aroma and low bitterness, unlike the small astringent fruit of ancestral olive. When sunlight hits the fumes, the pollutants seethe and react, making ozone. As we stroll up the canyon’s gentle slope, pine duff softens our footfall.

Phosphine (PH 3 ) is a flammable gas that can severely damage the lungs following inhalation (and conversion to phosphoric acid). Olive trees and people have been linked for eight millennia. Like us, they have their dispositions and histories. We don’t know exactly which species dispersed the ginkgo’s seeds in ages past, but dinosaurs with a taste for putrefaction, along with ancient mammals and birds, likely swallowed the smelly, pulpy surrounds of the seeds, distributing the ginkgo’s progeny in their dung. And these memories keep forming. And so it is today in our noses. They cluster on an individual tree and launch a mass attack. But even in the snow, each tree has its character. Split, it reeks of tomcat urine, a smell that fades only after a couple of years of seasoning. Woodstock Keystone '10 . Cascarilleros, “bark workers,” cut trees, then stripped and dried the bark. Other trees have yoked themselves to our noses and palates. Ponderosa is famed for its gorgeous scents, yet this canyon’s welcome seems to surpass all others: glowing, rich, and full of ease.

Made with ♥ in Inverness, California & Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Smell is also the sense most directly connected to memory and emotion. After fires burned through millennia-old peat forests in Indonesia, one hundred thousand people died as a result of smoke. A hint of tart apple. By about a million years ago, ginkgo was extinct worldwide, except in an enclave in southwestern China. Also, you should prune damaged and diseased limbs back to the collar. They were common in Antarctica before it froze. We’re an unusual mammal, loving fire and going out of our way to bring it into our homes. The fine particles are a hazard not only to the lungs, but to other tissues of the body. The cardboard tree swings violently as we take the corner. The flowers fall later in June, and the city reasserts its grip on our senses, a tight haze. I kneel at the pile of fresh wood chips and scoop a double handful to my nose. We’ve taken over the work of the dinosaurs, but the aroma is bereft: its function as an attractor for animals largely disappeared in this new world. At low doses, tannins and other tasty plant chemicals are antifungal, antibacterial, and antioxidative. Odors of decay draw mammalian scavengers. Tree aromas become the seeds around which raindrops first gather.

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