This time of year, when we are finally able to distance ourselves a bit from the daily grind, from the accumulated stresses of work and the ‘real world’;  the bullshit that is the world news;  the petty strains and pressures of the office:  when the air is clear, the sky, and the stars are bright, when we can begin to find some clarity and level-headedness and contemplation, is the perfect opportunity for us to walk.  To just walk, and think, recuperate, unwind, get some mental and physical air and think about the year that has just passed as well as the one that is about to come.







Duncan and I are fortunate in having some very beautiful walks here where we live in Kamakura.  And now that the hectic term is over, I look forward to taking advantage of them. Some paths that lead directly to the grounds of the most important zen temples, some that go through some very beautiful woods and eventually to the sea, and others, leading to a lake, that are not frequented by many people, that almost feel like secrets.


Usually I would run a mile from a perfume called Terre De L’Encens.  I love incense, have been burning my usual Japanese incense for most of this week, and as I sit here, my chest and back are also drenched in essential oils of frankincense and rosemary, as I try to recover from a cold I caught last week. I adore olibanum boswellia, and in fact almost bought a frankincense perfume yesterday ( my final day of work this year):  Incense by Florascent, an all natural perfume based on a beautiful natural extract from Eritrea that I have had my eye on for a while, but I decided instead that I had better save some money back for Kyoto instead (  we go there tomorrow, for Christmas ).

Despite my love for the otherworldly and breath-slowing aspect of frankincense, though, incense and woody perfumes, which the niche perfume market is really quite over-flooded with in my view, really do bore me to tears. All those Byredos and Tauers and Nasomattos and the like, those cruel-hearted urban oudhs, just smell, to me, on the whole, of unimaginative fashionistas giving off some dry, arid, ‘edginess’ that I personally find most unattractive, even aggravating.

Terre De L’Encens, by Ireland-based Cloon Keen, is an incense scent that for once dares to tread new ground.  Like a beautiful walk in the beach air, this clear and pleasant perfume offsets a very bright, luminous, clean frankincense note (‘incense hyperessence’), with an aerated floral accord (iris, immortelle, pepper) that in my opinion really works.  Where from the somewhat uninspired name you might expect the usual clogged and burnt ebonics, instead we find here a pleasingly liberated frisson of loneliness and togetherness; the salted mineral marine facets and ‘clear, radiant ozonic’ top notes contrasting properly with a certain lip-softened aspect; a subliminal, animalic element (labdanum, ciste) that prevents the usual banality from ever setting in.  I find a pleasing simplicity here, a kind of warm and elegant solitude as we walk along the coastline;  a clean-lined, pearlescent space like some gradually dawning female enlightedness.

Terre De L’Encens is not a dazzling scent by any means, but that, to me, is the point: it just smells nice, wraps the wearer in a clear-eyed sphere of skylight dreaminess and ease, as you walk, look out at the seaside horizons, and thank the universe for your blessings.

*     *         *      *


When I see ice and snow piled high on trees and bushes, I feel magic.

Everything else just drops away. It can feel as though you were alone in the world, that all the pollution and greed of mankind no longer exists, that you have returned to some kind of snowflake, primeval innocence: to childhood, and Christmas, and just the simple, beautiful reality of iced air penetrating the lungs, the magpies suddenly startling you from your reverie as they take flight into the beyond in a ruffling, shaking powder of snow.  I love to walk in such a scape, lose myself in the white of the sky, of the grass.  But at the same time, I have to admit that I am physically entirely unsuited to the cold.  It affects me inordinately.  I have a deep fear of it, and as a result, I am instinctively far more drawn to heat and warmth.  This is also true for perfume.  It seems as though I was born to wear ambers, patchouli, vanillas, and deep, rich perfumes that ground and surround me with a comforting, protective halo; eskimo furs of contrarian goodness to let me enjoy the frozen lake; the icicles frozen solid on the branches while feeling concurrently that they are outside, exterior to me, that I can feel my warm blood pumping in my veins, my heart hot, my body protected.

From what I have read, some people are apparently disappointed when they smell Sonoma Scent Studio’s Winter Woods, expecting some bleak, more poetic and touching scent that will conjure up the delicacy of frosted branches obstructing the path, the spirituality inherent in being lost in the forest ………….(” The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. And miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep…………..”)


But Winter Woods, a clever play on words, does in a way make one think of a walk in the woods in fact,  but more from the perspective of the walker himself clad snugly in warm clothes and perfume, the lung-protecting, rubefacient qualities of wood essential oils: of cedarwood, sandalwood, guaiacwood, elements that all have the characteristic of heat.  In fact, this perfume is very warm indeed, sultry even, especially in the almost raunched and sensual outerstages when it dries down to an ambered, bodied, conclusion of castoreum, vetiver and ambergris, with a healthy quantity of classic oakmoss giving the perfume a mossy, chypric aspect almost redolent of an underembellished, and more masculine, vintage Femme or Mitsouko (but without the spice).

This is a slow perfume: less a brisk walk in the forest than a half-somnambulent plod,  legs heavy, meandering into a clearing, wrapped up – too much even, in thermals and coats and scarves – where you sit on a log and stop; mull things over; meld with the surrounding woodwork.

There are seemingly no top notes in Winter Woods. All is cellos and basses: just a smokey, fireside aspect obtained with extract of birch tar resin, the cosy fireplace you know is waiting for you when you return home. The perfume – thick, genuine – is almost chocolatey: not in flavour exactly, but in its rich, inchoate texture, a deceptively simple scent that I almost wish were more complicated (some nutmeg? some orange peel, even a touch of paprika?) just to take it into more fully orchestrated territory.  And yet the perfume works perfectly as it is.  Ligneous, rich, dense, and somewhat magnetic, it is as fortifying, as reassuring, and as solid, as an oak.



Filed under Flowers


  1. What a lovely piece of writing. I’m sorry you have a bad cold- that sounds wretched-but it hasn’t clogged your head. I love the SSS Winter Woods so much that I just got a full bottle for Christmas. Your comment about its chocolatelike texture is interesting. It has no chocolate note, and I would recoil in horror if it did, but when I think in terms of the texture of a scent, I think I see what you mean. Merry Christmas, and rest and get well.

    • I love the synchronicity of you getting a full bottle of this for Christmas just as I decided to write about it.

      I am not ill, really, and I am sure Kyoto will cure me of whatever it is in any case.

      Merry Christmas to you as well; I love our conversations.

  2. Tora

    Such beautiful writing, again. Winter Woods does remind me of walking home through the close trees in deep snow to a warm cabin, with something sweet baking in the oven. Your writing brought me back to winter walks and the special feelings evoked when outside in the beauty, in the cold. I have not been in snow in 27 years, and I had almost forgotten that feeling. Thank you for bringing me back in to the cold.

  3. batkitty

    Your wonderful post is a much-needed moment of calm in the crazy holiday energy, so thank you for that. You’ve inspired me to bundle up and head out for a walk in the cold snowy air. And Christmas in Kyoto–I’m so envious! Someday I hope to experience it for myself.

  4. I always find your writing to be inspirational and very lovely. I have yet to smell either of these perfumes so I must rectify that. Of the two, with my love of incense, Terre de l’Encens will have to be first.

  5. Katy

    This is beautiful. I really, really needed the poetry of the writing and the photographs to soothe me and they did. You and D have a wonderful trip and enjoy this time of the year!

  6. I couldn’t agree more about Winter woods.
    I included in my Winter Wonderland post as a perfume example of the landscape, one where you walk in. 🙂

  7. Nocturnes

    Don’t ask me why but Winter Woods is a smoky vanilla on my skin….(mind you there is zero vanilla in it) …and after Jour it is my second favorite in Laurie’s line…..I think I could probably wear it year round…in the summer heat the “vanilla” (which doesn’t exist!) becomes even more amplified on my skin…..if I ever get back to traditional perfume wearing I really should order a big bottle of this…..

    and I believe a Happy Birthday is in order? Passed or coming up soon? I know this because you are the same sign as one of my young ladies!

  8. Interesting takes on the winter theme.
    I always enjoy these type of scents in theory, but on the skin they never seem to work for me. I have a tendency to bring out the richer and heavier notes in any fragrance, so when I wear these type of scents they just become too heavy and holiday candle on.
    One of my forays into incense was Passage d’enfer by l’Artisan, which is a very lovely scent, but it always seemed very old cathedral on me. We will not even go into how censer-iffic i smell whilst wearing CdG incense series scents.
    As for woodsy, foresty, wintery scents, I tend to end up smelling similar to Diptyque Feu de Bois candle, which is not terrible but also not fabulous.
    I need the juxtaposition of brightness with heaviness, much in the way of classic parfumery; lot of bergamot in opening then a lot of richness and heaviness.
    It is funny how I felt reading about your walks in this frozen, snow covered wonderland that us winter. On the one hand it seemed so beautiful and inviting, on the other it struck me as so quiet and alone that it made me just want to stay cocooned in the warm house.
    Winter is one of my favorite times of the year, yet I do not like being out in the cold, nor walking the snowy slippery ground. Maybe that us because I am living in a more rural area than I grew up in, it seems so much more removed from the rest of the world. But by no means is this farmland, just 2 acres per home so as not to be too close.
    Sorry about rambling on, I guess your writing, along with the photos, just struck a lonely chord in my heart that the winter always seems to intensify. I guess I am truly more of a city girl at heart.
    Now to parfum myself for the day.
    I think I will indulge in some Opium to spice things up a bit and give me the coziness I need.

  9. I can’t add anything to the above comments…another beautifully written piece.

  10. Matty

    A beautifully piece indeed. I love reading your posts and seeing the pics X

  11. rprichpot

    What a lovely, poetic, evocative review!❤️ Happy Holidays. Enjoy your Winter break.🎅🏻🌲🍾🥂🎉🎊

  12. Tara C

    Such beautiful pictures. I miss the silent serenity of winter in rural Canada. Winter in downtown Montreal is rarely serene, unless it is early morning right after a heavy snowfall, before the plows come through and everything is hushed and softened in a moment of grace. I very much enjoy Winter Woods, unfortunately there seems to be no distribution of Cloon Keen outside of the UK.

  13. it is pouring vigorously in northern Virginia so to read your glorious account of winter walks in your neighborhood in fairy tale, far away Japan makes my
    heart leap with joy and renewal and hope. thank you so much!!!!

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