It is a rich aroma, an earthy perfume, the scent of freshly turned soil. It exudes through the thin drum of skin over the place where bone hasn’t closed. It is pheromonic — this smell nestling against the down of my newborn daughter’s head, rising briefly into my nostrils as I inhale deeply, then swirling and gathering again after I exhale reluctantly, pressing lips to her feathery hair to breathe it in once more, to inflate with it.
I discovered this smell within hours of my daughter’s birth, after the morphine had begun to thin in my system, after I stopped shaking. Twenty-four hours of labor followed by caesarian had wracked my body and wrung my nerves, but the epiphany of my daughter’s scent soothed me to tears. I had anticipated something cloying and powdery and pink. Instead, what emitted from her head was not an aroma but an atmosphere, the fertile climate of an enchanted forest. I relaxed into the world she evoked, grounded in the wonder of my love for her, and we napped.
Now she is four, and I believe the last traces of that magic, mushroomy fragrance slipped away when she weaned, just before her first birthday. As the scent grew fainter I would pull it up into my brain, forcing a crease, working to commit it to memory. I wanted to remember how our world became encapsulated, how her scent was the weather that swirled around the globe of us. I found it grounding and constant. When it was gone, I imagined there would be nothing like it again.
Last week I held a baby. A beautiful boy four months in the world–wise-eyed and willing to be held. My voice twittered and fluted in an attempt to enchant him, really to allow me more time to remain enchanted by him. I bounced him and hugged him and tested his grip. Then I sniffed his head.
There, unexpectedly nestled in his silken hair-that lost sylvan smell. My daughter’s smell.
I inhaled, eddying into a cellular memory of primeval mists, of rain-soaked stones, of the eventual oak contained in an acorn-a nascent atmosphere voltaic with change, yet delicate as a fern’s fist unfurling. Smelling his sweet, earthy head transported me once more to that vibrant place of portent and possibility, a place I know now I will find again.
It’s always somewhere in the air.