I don’t know when I started noticing. Was it always there, with me? Or did it creep in slowly like the finger of fog on the Bay until it just was?

Parenting the sensitive child. My mom probably wishes she would have read that book earlier.

The sounds of fireworks sending me into hiding. Crying about finding a dead butterfly, swallowtail, the yellow and black dust of its perfect wings imprinted on my small fingers, evidence that it lived. Watching the geese crisscross the faded autumn sky and longing for time to stop. The feeling of my white wool knee socks, the hemline needing to be “just so” straight across my toes. Smelling gas or mold or a dead animal before anyone else, rooting out whatever the danger could be through my nose. Noticing.

In our pandemic world, wearing masks has not bothered me one bit. It’s an act of kindness, it’s survival, it’s political.

My other senses are acute, eyesight good, the small hearing loss in my left ear compensated just fine by my right ear. The sensors in my skin giving me notice of the breeze’s direction. The angle of the sun helping orient me to time and place. I don’t feel a barrier wearing a mask perhaps because I choose not to feel it. Ambling in the world, just fine.

This weekend, in Golden Gate park, I walked along trails laden with tannic Monterey pine needles, sprouting ferns, next to coastal prairie – green for the only time this year – and coastal scrub and its succulents. Rhododendrons and azaleas in full blossom. Yellow and orange and pink poppies standing tall. The first fuchsia magnolia bloom on a tree, leading the way for the other buds to follow.

I looked around on the trail, all directions. No one was coming. I paused. The white and golden-crowned sparrows rustled along the ground. A chestnut-backed chickadee, so tiny, sang for its partner. And oak titmouse perched up high with its pointy crown, head tilting side to side. A charm of ruby-throated hummingbirds rushed back and forth.

I pulled down my mask. My triple layer mask with a filter.

Just to take it in. Oh how can I explain the noticing that went off in my nose – earth and humus. Decomposition and birth. Rain. Steam. The gentle scent of pine that seems to only waft in a patch of sun. Delicate rosemary mixed with cowboy bush. Noticing.

I miss this. I miss the smell of the earth, of place, of purpose. Of all of us, noticing.

spectacular spring gardens around the world
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