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.
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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.