Vulnerability has a scent, and I wasn’t wearing it

…and other unusual things said to me lately.

Scent has always played a huge role in my life. As such, I own probably an inordinate amount of scented things, personal and home. I picked up a new perfume on a trip.  It is very green, woodsy with a mossy undertone at dry down.  It reminds me of the woods, of growing things, fecundity – I enjoy wearing it. Most personal scents are worn because the wearer likes them; any additional fans are simply icing on the cake. I have a scent family that I wear most of the time, but I like to be different (shocking, I know) from time to time, or not use the expensive stuff for puttering around the house. Imagine my mental surprise when my mother pronounced “You smell like a man. A woman is supposed to smell vulnerable.” Pardon me while I process that for a moment. If my success as a female is based on my helplessness factor, I’m in big trouble. Now I’m supposed to smell vulnerable too?? What does that smell like anyway? Slight tinge of fear? Residue of tears?  How does one portray vulnerability in a scent? I can think of a lot of things that my scents might project, but I can’t say as vulnerability is ever anything I want to project or even ever considered actually.

Like many things people say off the cuff that reveals how they think, this little exchange stuck in my brain to be toyed with.  I particularly thought about the person who said it – the person who my was my role model for femininity growing up. I was raised that how you look, how you present, is THE most important thing about being female. Not your character or your intelligence. Just how you presented in public for your man. Make-up first thing. Hair precisely in place. Attire appropriate. NEVER leave the house without looking your best, because first impressions are difficult to overcome (I’m pretty sure I’ve blown that one several times just this year, lol!). My professional entertainer family nailed that to a T.  Every exit from a vehicle into a public place was like a stage entrance. As a result, I despise artifice. I’m not talking about manners and decorum. Artifice. Being Southern can include a lot of artifice just by culture, under the guise of ‘manners’.

The other day on my way out the door to work, my landlords were coming in from a morning walk. I hadn’t seen the lady around, but the male part of the pair had been busy tearing down plants to pour concrete, having the main house painted, and polishing the motorcycles in the front yard.  Oh, and goosing the 1950’s hot rod he bought recently.  She’s a very touchy-feely person, and she gravitated towards my new jewelry, asking all about it, touching it, then took my face in her hands(!!) and proclaimed “You have a nice face.”  I am quite certain I had a strange look on my face, because I felt strange. It’s not like she just met me; I’ve been living here almost three years. I remember laughing and commenting “Thanks, it’s the only one I’ve got so that’s good news!”  It was just a weird moment, and wayyy too inside my personal space zone for someone I really don’t consider a friend and barely an acquaintance. While I too am a toucher and hugger, that’s something reserved for people I care deeply about and know pretty well.  But she’s older, close to my Mom’s age, so maybe it’s the ‘motherly’ thing manifesting itself.  I cannot imagine doing that to anyone other than a loved one, personally. People often give me pause lately, that’s for sure.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve resurrected the dream I had for my 50th birthday and unshelved it – thru-hiking the AT.  When I leave my job to go live back in the woods, it most likely will be the only time in the foreseeable future that I can plan a 4 month break from employment and housing responsibilities and achieve that dream. It will mean a few months longer working once I am debt-free, but it IS the right time. I’m a little late in the implementing, true. But the death of my husband threw everything out of whack, then following after that my layoff and unemployment time, so that it is just now within the last year that I feel my feet more steady beneath me. In addition to researching almost full off-grid living  and planning how to do that,I now get to add in physical training, mental training and re-familiarizing myself with the trail information I had stored years back on my older computer. Currently my plan is to be a Southbounder, starting at Maine and ending in Georgia, as it is close to Tennessee where I’ll be returning to live.  When I moved to one of the trail towns on the OT several years ago, I didn’t even know what the AT was. The more that I learned and researched, the more I felt the pull.  I discussed it often with my husband, who just shook his head. Back then I was still someone scared of the dark and scared in the woods. Through his gentle approach to nature and natural curiosity, he led me through those barriers little by little.  Then, when living alone after his death, I faced some more things on my own. Earlier this year when I completed my first solo primitive camp, more of those barriers fell away. It feels like a confluence of all the right things now.

While discussing this with my dear friend and trying to articulate the why behind it, she gifted me a quote that sums it up in entirety for me, and I’ll share it here, from Chief Luther Standing Bear:

“…He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.”

When one sits beneath truly black skies and watches the stars unfurl, hears the chorus of the coyotes near or far, listens to the whisperings in the underbrush of creatures unseen but busy about their lives, faces the fury of a storm or the gentleness of falling snow, we begin to realize our smallness, our weakness, our dependence.  Humankind today seeks an escape and illusion to cover this fact, rather than making peace with our place and our fragility. Everything is there to be conquered or reshaped to our liking, imposing our will upon things.  It is a humbling thing to recognize our smallness in scope, and we humans are an arrogant bunch for the most part. We are not farsighted enough to see the long-reaching consequences of our short-term needs-based decisions, which often are not truly needs but wants.

I’d like to hike the AT before our shallowness swallows it up.  I’d like to get a glimpse of things the Native Americans saw, although I know even that today is very little present (but I’m thankful not to have to bushwhack through!) Today there are so many choices, on gear, on food, how to carry and prepare water, that it is nearly unfathomable to think of peoples moving across the land in tribes, living daily lives in the openness that was America way back when. But I am looking forward to a smattering of the taste, to pull it into me and set it alongside the natural wild that lives inside all of us.

And I’ll leave you with some of my ancestral music, one I’ll be certain to take on the trail and into the woods with me – “The Gael” by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.  I already dream of standing at Katahdin or the Whites, watching a sunrise with this in my ears 🙂

I know a friend of mine is living his next year, visiting Scotland and Ireland, and so I say:

Be well, and nurture your dreams 🙂

~SE

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  15 comments for “Vulnerability has a scent, and I wasn’t wearing it

  1. December 14, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    I enjoyed reading this so much! 🙂

    Like

  2. December 14, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    Ah, that quote fits ever so nicely with your words to accompany. Nice write. And I look forward to trail tales. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 14, 2014 at 1:44 PM

      Thank you very much for sharing it with me!

      The tales will come if connectivity is possible and I don’t faceplant somewhere along the way, which seems to be a required initiation right, along with shin splints and tick bites, lol!

      Like

      • December 14, 2014 at 1:53 PM

        Gladly!
        I totally understand the faceplant – did it myself in Montana. Rattled me greatly – that ground is much harder than it used to be, by my estimation. 😉
        I know you though, journal entries will allow for later shares if you can’t get them out straight away.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. December 14, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Hi SE,
    Captivating as always. The first part of looking just right could have been me. Living in Texas image or made up, over perfumed was the normal. I had feather wings and many times wore to much make up bit it was my choice. I new you loved the outdoors when you camped in below freezing temps recently. When do you hit the road, it sounds like your adventure starts soon. I’ve worked on an email to you for a couple of weeks, Lyme is kicking my ass and which delayed. I would like to talk about working together.
    Have a great day.
    Melinda

    Liked by 1 person

    • December 14, 2014 at 1:47 PM

      Aww M, I’m sorry to hear you are struggling so much ((hugs)).

      It is at least 18 months out, maybe a month or two longer. Gotta get all of those ducks quacking in the right row first, debt paid off, savings socked away for taking time off and also getting the baby homestead birthed.

      Thank you for the encouragement, and feel better soon!

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 15, 2014 at 12:51 AM

        SE,
        I want to go camping, not in sub zero weather with you. Of course it might take a gallon of DEET for me to get near tall grass, trees, scrubs, probably to leave the house after surviving Lyme. Maybe sub zero is better, ticks and flying critters usually die then. Take care. I’ll get my email out. Would like to see more of you on site.
        M

        Liked by 1 person

        • December 23, 2014 at 7:57 AM

          That is one of the reasons I prefer camping when it is colder. Sounds like we could have some fun!!!

          Liked by 1 person

          • December 23, 2014 at 1:18 PM

            S
            I wold need several toddies in that type of weather. It’s hard to believe at 28 y.o. I went camping on New Years day totally hung over. We sleep in the vehicle instead of a tent, so glad. It started sleeting so hard and then the sheep came and totally wrecked havoc with our friends. Then I got laughed at for years for heating up the vehicle in order to change clothes and clean up with water heated over fire. We were deer hunting. I saw Bambi and couldn’t pull the trigger. I haven’t hunted since.
            Today at 51 y.o. there is no way I would go thru that again.
            I still have the email to you in my draft box. Lyme is holding me to ground. I was hoping you wanted to get active with the group? If so I just have to change one button.
            Have a Merry Christmas
            Hugs
            M

            Liked by 1 person

            • December 23, 2014 at 11:07 PM

              I snacked on Bambi chili tonight 🙂 And I think warmed up water is perfectly fine for washing up, hmph.

              Not sure I understand the last part of your note, so I’ll wait for your E-mail.

              Happy trails and hugs back 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • December 23, 2014 at 11:17 PM

                I love Bambi and most wild meat, just my shooting them days are over. In my fantasy land my life would include living off the grid, food self sufficient. I would wear overall, my straw cowboy hat and pink do rag while riding my John Deer. It’s a fantasy because with my mental illness living in the woods is out of question. I still hold out hope. It would be perfect to live in a large barn with living upstairs and goods and animals downstairs. My brother has 100+ acres and is working towards that life.
                Have a great day. I’ll work on email tomorrow.
                M

                Like

  4. December 18, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    I live in the Knoxville area. If you’d like some company on a very short stretch of your AT trek, I’d be more than willing and happy to try to keep up with and accompany you as that would be on my bucket list if I had one.

    Like

    • December 23, 2014 at 7:59 AM

      I used to live in that area as well, near Norris Lake, in the ‘Chapel’. I miss the hills and hollers. It would be great to meet up with you on the trail 🙂

      Like

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