A few weeks ago I was searching my favorite New York pharmacy for a gift for my cousin Martha, who had had a terrible summer and was in need of an unexpected package on her doorstep. I stumbled upon this unique line of scents, which i had seen before, and picked up the one called "Firefly".
Martha and I knew a lot of fireflies in our day, our summers in Vermont were full of them. I didn't know that fireflies weren't everywhere until my niece, a California Girl of about eight at the time, started drilling me about them. We were on a plane, headed to Vermont, where she had never before been but had been told by her mother that fireflies lived. She wasn't buying it. "Let me get this straight..." she said, her voice very grown up but her little legs straight out in front of her, barely reaching the edge of the chair.. "Its a bug, that FLIES" with this she gave me a little hand flip and raised her eyebrows.. "and his BUTT lights up? Now she was shaking her head and putting her little headphones back on, not waiting for a response. I grabbed her arm. "YES", I said. "And you can catch them - they fly very slowly - and put them in a jar for a little while, so long as you poke air-holes in the top." Now she was looking at me as though I should be put in a jar for a little while, with some air-holes poked in the top and some special medicine. I have to admit that the satisfaction I felt when she finally did see - and catch- a firefly a few days later, it was partly due to the fact that I myself had begun to believe that they were possibly imaginary, if not remarkably improbable.
I sniffed "Firefly" and found it to be an exact replica of July evenings in northern Vermont. EXACT. Down to the wet, dark evening grass and the wine soaked mother and aunts on the front porch. It smelled exactly like dirt roads, raspberries, and being poor. Swimming holes, rotting leaves, clover, and station wagons. Spiders, cousins, wet bathing suits, and a kitchen full of steam from boiling corn. It was all there.
Scent is a powerful thing. Ask my dog, who just last week, on his walk home from his very first New York City grooming appointment, hurled himself into a slick puddle of mystery ick beside the Happy Halal Lunch Truck across from the Tyra Banks / Martha Stewart TV studios and writhed spastically on his back until his entire top half smelled of death and coriander. SOMEONE will not be getting the hand knitted holiday sweater as planned.
Inspired equally to re-capture the scents of my childhood and to mask the smell of decay that my dog prefers, I decided to experiment with scents. My plan is to make holiday gifts for everyone in my family. I picked a place in Vermont that we all remember very fondly: Alpine Haven. Alpine Haven was the adorably kitschy chalet style vacation community in which my grandparents retired, there was a pool there that we all used almost every day in the summer. My grandmother would appear poolside post siesta with her mules and sunglasses, put on a bathing cap with big white plastic flowers on it, and swim back and forth in an elegant breast stroke that was, in itself, so memorable that I can still stretch my neck and move my arms in a certain way and any one of my cousins will know exactly who I am pretending to be, without saying a word. She was an elegant woman. She wore chanel no.5 (I am certain that she was the only woman I knew who wore perfume until I was an adult) and did not drive.
Not everyone wears perfume, so I am planning to make aromatic diffusers with bamboo sticks. These are better than candles, because you can't leave them burning accidentally. I was happily shocked to find that I could make them inexpensively. I plan to add my own custom labels, probably with a picture of my grandmother on them.
My Alpine Haven blend is still needing a bit of tweaking, but so far I have decided on a mixture of essential oils of Pine (just a touch), Birch, Geranium, Chamomile (it grew wild all around the pool), and just the tiniest amount of Chanel No. 5, which I had to beg for in small sample quantities at the perfume counter at Bloomingdales because I really didn't want a whole bottle. If I add a tiny bit of blue food dye it will be the color of a swimming pool. Everything else I have managed to find online, but I am thinking about other ingredients that I might have to hunt down, just to make it more interesting.
The options for holiday gifts involving custom scents are really endless... for supplies plus great instructional videos on making custom perfumes, candles, soaps, lip balms and much more, check out snowdriftfarm.com.