• Of Sphinx Moths and Heady Scents

    I don’t claim to have much of a sense of smell.  Because I don’t.  For whatever reason, I don’t pick up on smells like the rest of the human race, remember them very well, or recognize them easily when I do manage to sniff across one.  But recently I’ve had something of a nasal epiphany, far and away from the kind of surgical procedure that the phrase ‘nasal epiphany’ no doubt sounds like.

    I’ve been entranced by heady scents–not the kind of subtle, sweet perfumes that often elude my nose.  Rather, bawdy and cloying scents that hang in the air and drip, otherwise described as the sorts of smells not associated with conventional moralities.  Imagine fragrances that would make you blush from self-indulgence.  Those smells permeate my garden these days, thanks in part to a few fragrant characters that obviously have a pseudo-evolutionary way of catching just a little attention.

    In the “I’m Rosie, and I’ll be here all week” department grows the Orienpet lily ‘Robina’.  With nearly a dozen flowers held atop six-foot, green-plastic stems, this pinkster is programmed for gaudy and outrageous.  She’s like the bombshell blonde (in pink) at the party.  Twelve feet away and somebody notices.  Except this time it’s her smell.  I’ve decided after much contemplation and personal reflection that this nose-nabbing scent, though associated with an absolutely lovely flower, obstructs my sensibilities just a little too much.  Admittedly though it does make for animate storytelling.

    Jumping off the house of ill-repute high, my nose ambles over to an astounding clump of my favorite phlox ‘Peppermint Twist’.  I’ve said too much about this plant already, and my friends are tired of hearing me rave about it.  I know, you get it.  It’s fabulous.  But I’ve never mentioned the scent, because until now I’d never really noticed it had one.  While weeding in the front garden a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but taste, yes taste, sugar.  Not sugar cookie sugar.  More like cotton candy sugar–the sort of sugary goodness that sends 10-year olds into mania at carnivals and fairs.  I suspected nearby ‘Peppermint Twist’ when the taste (and smell) crossed my palate.  But I needed a confirmation, and my mother came to the rescue.  Cotton candy indeed.

    All this raving about “scentsibility” lately has caused me to notice the increasing presence of sphinx moths in the front garden at night–an observation intricately bound to fragrance.  Within the hour before dusk, these soundless Lepidoptera whiz through the garden, probing nectaries for sugary juices with a long and nearly invisible proboscis.  These elegant creatures stop me in my tracks.  With the calm curiosity of a 10-year old just before a sugar high, I’ve watched a trio of sphinx moths for several nights in a row.  For whatever reasons, we apparently drool over the same lily and phlox, though I suspect they derive more sustenance from them than I do.  For those sphinx moths, that air-flooding fragrance triggers the very basest of evolutionary instincts.  For me, that cloying odor merely incites vivid adjectives in my brain for the purposes of blogging.

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