Playa Requeson, April 9, 2013
The Sea of Cortez smells so good! Clean water always has a fragrance. It’s the sum--the essence--of all that’s happening in the water. When I was a kid, I used to love the way my dog’s fur smelled. Odor is one of the ways we recognize loved ones. The smell of their hair or skin becomes a sort of perfume for us. People are very sensitive to odors, although mostly at a subliminal level. So it’s very hard to describe the good smell of the Sea of Cortez.
For a while I toyed with trying good wines and wine tasting. I can tell a good wine from a poor one, but I get impatient with the fight for prestige among the brands, and with the few, poor words they use to describe wines—a fruity this and that with a dash of coffee and an overtone of something else. Perhaps when you get into that activity, it’s like learning a language.
But for the sea—I’m at a loss for how to describe it. It’s complex, subtle, and changing from place to place. At Isla Danzante, I savored the fragrance of the sea, and again here. Yes, it has that salty smell of all oceans—but I don’t think salt itself has an aroma. “Salty” is the generic smell we’ve learned to associate with bodies of salt water.
I’ve heard that oceans give off an organic molecule that’s important in the chemistry of the atmosphere—perhaps that substance contributes to the aroma.
Here, I’m not far from shore vegetation, as I was paddling along Danzante. I’m sure that contributes—for when paddling in the dark along Danzante, I could smell blossoms and woody smells.
Here, as at Danzante, there’s definitely something that’s pure ocean. A bit of seaweed--but also something herbal. I don’t have the words, but it’s complex and it smells good.
You might say it smells like new-mown hay, but then it’s different from that. Like the hay, it’s a distinctive, environmental, natural smell. On land, we can match the fresh hay smell with the mowing event, and so give it a name.
But here, what words can you use? “Salty” simply doesn’t do it justice.
If a human’s aroma is the distinctive sum of who they are and what they’ve been doing and eating--and their favorite cosmetics--then imagine what the aroma of the Sea of Cortez sums up. An entire ecosystem—a thousand miles long, consisting of tens of thousands of species macroscopic plants and critters, and many more microscopic. All living, dying, rotting, and recycling… struggling and evolving. And all that is distilled into this delicate and complex aroma that’s drifting in on the breeze to the shore of Playa Requeson.
I was breathing in the sea's fragrance the night I arrived at Playa Requeson--as the waves lapped, and the fish skipped across the darkened surface that reflected both stars and lights of an occasional passing truck.
This delicate aroma—suggestive like music—is something you won't find at a water park. I hope someday my grandchildren will be able to fill their lungs with it, under the stars.