Jun 1, 2021

traveling into the past through smell

Yesterday, I went on a hike on nearby hills lavishly covered by sagebrush, a familiar shrub with great memories of my childhood. In the Hazaragi vernacular, it's called butta; they are intensely aromatic and can be felt from a distance. Back in the village, we used to collect them every fall. Sagebrush is an arid-adapted shrub that grows in harsh habitats in the mountains, deserts, and steppes. 

When I was very young, I went with my mother to nearby hills and mountains to collect sagebrush. We burned them to cook our meals or heat our house in winter. I remember my mom used to wear a long colorful gown with velvet flowers, contrasting the pale greenish landscape. I often drifted away from her, following my passion, running after marmots, stalking them at their dens, or climbing  up on boulders and rocks until I heard my mom's worrying call, "where are you?" "Here, coming," I would respond. Then I followed her through the sagebrush; some were taller than me. Occasionally, she would need my assistance, mainly when her skirt was stuck in bushes, or she needed help removing thorns and thistles from her long beautiful dress decorated with delicate flowers. 

It was the first time to see sagebrush plants in this country. I was so excited as soon as I found myself among them. I walked off the trail to pace through a sea of sagebrush to feel them, to pick up the strong pleasant scent on my clothes while at the same time caressing the petals with my hands. As memories flew in, a powerful sense of being removed suddenly overwhelmed me. I found myself back in the village, on the mountains and hills that were so immensely familiar. I felt my mother's hands, the fragrance of the sagebrush on her hands, her clothes, and her homemade leather gloves that she used to wear when collecting shrubs, and on the way back, I used to carry them. I sat under a sagebrush and wept.

If the war and its horrible consequences hadn't happened, I would have been in the village, in that pristine and healthy ecosystem, having a normal and peaceful life, walking on hills and mountains with my mother. Yesterday, ambling through the sagebrush and picking up its fragrance was a revisit to my childhood, a moment that harked back to the good old days that will never repeat.