Sunday, April 22, 2007

Breathe! It reaps rewards every April


Sherry Boas
(First appeared in the Orlando Sentinel April 15, 2007)

Sweet, sweet air. If you haven't stepped outside lately, please do. Open the door, stand in the backyard and take a deep breath.

The air is heady with fragrance.

Although acres of fruit-bearing groves have been replaced by subdivisions and shopping centers throughout Central Florida, the sweet smell of citrus flowers remains.

Enough trees bearing oranges, Meyer lemons, kumquats and grapefruit have been planted in home landscapes to scent the air with a rich floral repast.

Consider it an olfactory offering, yours for the taking. The only requirements are a few minutes to clear your mind of worldly woes, an outdoor presence and the inhaling of breath.

And it's not just citrus sending a message this time of year. Wisteria, honeysuckle and the pink and white flowers on orchid trees add their special signature to this potent potion of springtime.

Call it "Eau d'Avril," the essence of April. No perfume on the shelves can compare to this elusively sweet seducer of the senses.

The other day I stepped out of my car in the parking lot of a shopping center that might have been a citrus grove a few years ago. Although no orange trees were in sight, my nose caught a whiff of citrus as soon as I opened the car door.

Where did it come from? I scanned the horizon in search of a bloom -- anything in bloom -- but I saw no flowers.

The only vestige of nature was the requisite greenery planted in pockets of cigarette-littered dirt surrounded by pavement.

Somewhere nearby, I imagined, there was a yard covered with flowers. Maybe a lounge chair sat in the shade of a gnarly old orange tree. A few fruit remained on the boughs alongside hundreds of blooms, each one a promise of sweet tomorrows.

Perhaps against the house a purple wisteria vine wound its way up an arbor, flooding the air with waves of sweetness.

That tree, those vines and a few willing blooms scented that entire expanse of paved-over paradise -- at least in my imagination. The real source of this thrilling perfume remained elusive.

My own wisteria vines wander the ground in search of altitude.

Years ago, when we moved to the property, I stuck two plants in the poor soil above our driveway. One was a white wisteria vine, the other purple.

I fully intended to install an arbor soon afterward, but it has been 15 years, and no arbor is erected.

If the wisteria mind, I wouldn't know it. Each year as March bows out just before April appears, the vines eagerly leap into bloom, dancing on the breeze with an intense aroma.

Determined to reach new heights, the wisteria skip along across the ground, climbing anything to which their tenacious tentacles can cling -- another plant, an oak tree, the bare stalks of last year's dog fennel.

How fortunate to live in an area where seasonal changes can be so viscerally sensed as well as observed. Some call it spring; I prefer to think in terms of the flowers -- the season of citrus buds, wisteria vines, honeysuckle and orchid trees.

Scientific research indicates that the fragrances people smell can have a profound effect on their productivity and ability to sleep soundly. Odors, specifically floral scents, can even influence shopping decisions.

According to Dr. Alan Hirsch, director of neurology at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, the quickest way to change emotions is with smell.

In 1999, Hirsch studied the power of scents on the brain, publishing his results in a scientific journal.

While his work provided useful information to managers of shopping malls, we don't need a scientist to tell us something we already know -- step outside, smell the flowers and receive a mood boost.

Make time to breathe in April. It only makes scents.

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