One of the loveliest aromas I know is black sage after a rain, but how can you describe a fragrance? With similes, but black sage after a rain really ONLY smells like black sage after a rain.
It doesn’t grow here in Colorado. Its range is limited to Baja California and Southern California.
In 1984, I moved from Colorado to California. I didn’t want to move to California, and didn’t like it all that much most of the time, but here’s the thing. Even here, living in Heaven, I sometimes dream of those sere Southern California hills and their magic, and, sometimes (shhhh don’t tell anyone) I want to go back. I know that going back isn’t just a matter of getting on a jet and renting a car at a distant airport. There’s a bit of time travel involved.
Well, here goes, the fragrance of black sage.
It’s January. Still a month before the rattlesnakes and their babies come out in force to hunt around Valentine’s Day. It rained through the night, a real thunderstorm, and the world is wet, a magic thing in that desert place. You drive down Fairmount, under the freeway and connect to Mission Gorge Road where you turn right. You go west on Mission Gorge to Fr. Junipero Sera Trail where you turn left. This road is fun, windy and fast until the place becomes a park, but since we’re on an imaginary journey, lets say it’s not a park yet. You get to the Old Mission Dam Parking lot and park. You let Truffle and Molly out of the back seat of your Peugeot 505 sti (you don’t have your truck yet) and keep them leashed until you cross the bridge away from the dam area where people are often found. Then you let the dogs run free.
They charge off in a rush of dog joy ahead of you on the trail. You wrap their leashes over your shoulder and adjust your pack that contains only water, an orange, a granola bar and a yogurt container for the dogs to drink from.
You walk through the small ravine cut by the seasonal stream that empties into the San Diego River. In January it has water in it, and Truffle — a mix of a couple of water dogs, Labrador and Springer spaniel — is “fishing,” the white tip of her tail waving in joy.
Molly stays with you most of the time, occasionally catching a scent and chasing it. Molly — Malamute and Australian shepherd — is a master hunter who has come back to you with a bunny butt hanging from her mouth. More than once she’s gone off with the coyotes in the darkness and returned, unable to tell her stories.
As they run, they brush against the sage — black and white — and the air is redolent. The black sage is more common on the scrubby looking slopes, but the white sage is what the Indians use to purify spaces. You sometimes pick a branch or two to burn in your car.
Low clouds drifting in from the ocean climb the slopes, so close you can reach into them, walk through them, small patches of moving fog. When you reach the top of the hill — mountain, the world is green. You climb up to the top of the rock. Truffle and Molly join you. You pour them some water, take the orange out of your pack, peel it, suck on the juicy sections and watch the light play over the ocean, breaking through the shaggy remnants of last night’s storm.
That’s black sage after a rain.
“Salvia mellifera. Salvia mellifera (black sage) is a small, highly aromatic, evergreen shrub of the genus Salvia (the sages) native to California, and Baja California, Mexico”