Hidden places in the wilderness is where we go to find the plants and trees we use in our fragrances. There are places within places, those small patches of forest, those sections of river that speak to us just a little more clear than nature itself. We have tried to explain these small wild places with our Knuckle Down Lonesome Fragrances - that place that the light hits just right that it just explodes in your imagination and you can never forget it. Big River is just this to us. Up in Rhode Island, not too far from the North Fork of Long Island, a series of lakes and ponds give way to a reservoir that the state flooded many years ago. People had to pick up all their homes and move before the flood waters came in. Turns out the state never got funding and the waters never came but the people had left and nature started taking the land back. We have walked the trails within the, now protected land, many times. Huge stands of 150-200 year old White Pines are endless and on the shores of the Big River, guarded by these pines stand a healthy but spread out Atlantic White Cedar swamp. This is where we harvested the plants and trees for our seasonal Big River Wilderness Cologne.
It was warm but raining and the thought of not going never crossed our minds. The goals here were different for the both of us. For me it was to discover stands of untouched cedar, for my traveling companion it was to revisit a place he'd been to as a kid many times, just hadn't been able to scrape up the time lately (the last 30 years kind of flew by). It was going to be a small but memorable journey up a r over that not many people travel. I have to say, at first glance it was prehistoric almost. It was set back in time, overgrown with plants and holding onto something precious. I wouldn't have known this until after the trip was over but I could feel it in my bones before like something alive. It was that kid in me resurfacing for a smile.
Oh there were cedars! Huge, gorgeous, healthy ones. Fallen ones that had branches growing perpendicular from their main trunks, reaching to start new trees. They were thick and a shade of green unlike any other tree around.
Getting to them was another story. In Big River these cedars grew in the thick mud and getting dirty was unavoidable and when I say dirty I mean thigh deep in muck. Not to say I'm not at home in the dirt and detritus just wasn't quit prepared to get this filthy but I was happy to get my hands on these downed branches.
It didn't take long to get to a major highway. These days no matter what direction you go you are bound to find a paved road or house, something that reminds you that our wilderness is precious. Although the the constant flow of cars whizzing down the highway could be heard at all times there was still a sense that you where out there alone. It was the place, it held onto something sacred - something before the land was stripped bare and replaced with billboards and strip malls.
When we got back, we couldn't wait to distill the plants we collected for our Big River homage. In honor of the warm, summer rain we stayed outside, drank a few beers and waited for boil. When that fragrant steam started piping out we knew this was going to be a good one. Fresh cedar leaves and white pine, endless plumes of goldenrod and wild bergamot. It was certainly a good day. For one last treat, we took a stroll around the property for a little mushroom foraging. Butter, salt, pepper, rosemary - these sautéed up nicely.
Our single plant studies are love songs, pure, unfiltered, admiration, of one species of plant or tree. One plant with so many scent notes in its catalog, balanced by millions of years of evolution...
Traditions run deep. They swirl around in our collective imaginations and bring us to that cherished, nostalgic place. I wonder though, if these heirloom notions and warm traditions have become a burden on the environment.
Breath it in. Really look into it. Those pines. Now look at the nuances. Look at the smaller things - the post & chestnut oak, the pepper bush and fragrant bayberry, laurel & huckleberry, then even smaller - the viney greenbriar, cranberry, summer grape and the sweet fern. Even deeper, under the leaves of that underbrush, deeper to the forest floor, hiding under the shade of gorgeous blackberry and sassafras, the rare pink lady slipper orchid, the mosses and cinnamon fern, the tiniest of violets and British red coats.