Pandemic Journal 16/11/2020 — things I love, lily of the valley, a chronology

2020: Anosmia, the inability to smell, is a symptom of COVID-19.

24 May 2020: Lily of the Valley blankets the woods in the midst of an abandoned pathway through Mill Creek Ravine. On this afternoon’s walk, my neighbour Maarten and I marvel at the growth. It is as though this green carpet seeped through time from the garden of a once-upon-a-time home long torn down in favour of a public park. A week after this photograph was taken, the delicate white cups of blossoms lined upright inside the arched leaves to fill the air with their fragrance.

1902: When the Edmonton, Yukon & Pacific (E. Y. & P.) Railway began to run trains along this watery tributary of the North Saskatchewan River, mid-wild houses scattered family life the length of the ravine. Now only the hollowed-out ruins of basement and root cellar remain of the homes. A trestle bridge structure still spans the creek.


1963: My Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bob’s house next door to where I grew up in then rural Pickering, Ontario, was a century home even then. The windows on one side were bricked up according to rumour by the notorious Kingston Highway Robbers who holed up there between sprees robbing local nineteenth-century travellers. Bats flew out of the attic every evening swirling and circling overhead. One morning, my mother chased one with a pitchfork along the driveway. A brutal end to a misguided radar malfunction.

Over the decades, the front yard of that fabled house disappeared behind a verdant wall, a square rimmed by towering firs. Inside this shadowy secret hideaway a luminescent carpet of lily of the valley appeared each spring. As though lit from within, it called to me to enter. I wanted to swim there in the shadow of green-leafed splendour — but never did.

Artist: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen

1967: The olfactory is a memory bank. At sixteen, my first perfume was the French translation Muguet des Bois, the “gay, shy, fragrance for a debutante” originally launched by Coty in 1941.

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