By Coggin Heeringa
Throughout the year, people tell us that they are thankful for Crossroads. But during gun/deer hunting season, people seem especially grateful for a safe place to hike and walk their dogs. Around Thanksgiving, the forest also seems to have special scent.
Theoretically, the scent should have been stronger in October when temperatures were warmer and the air was humid. Perhaps the visual spectacle of autumn leaves was so overwhelming that our other senses were numbed.
In November, with the distraction of color merely a memory, hikers can focus on the crackling sounds of fallen leaves and autumn scents of the forest.
This fragrance, according to researchers, is a combination of chemicals. Throughout the year, evergreen trees exude volatile oils called turpenes and pinenes. These scents are familiar—the fragrance of fresh holiday greens, the smell of a pine forest on a sunny summer day. The evergreen scents combine with compounds of the red and orange pigments of decomposing autumn leaves which are released into the air.
So this is the smell of late autumn—the essence of the summer past, the memories of the growing season—captured in fragrance that brings thanks to the heart.
The Collins Learning Center at Crossroads at Big Creek will be closed on Thanksgiving so the staff can enjoy the smells of Thanksgiving—turkey and dressing enhanced with poultry seasoning. Poultry seasoning is a combination of herbs, among which are parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. (Humm….that sounds somehow so familiar.),
When I list “sage,” I suppose most Americans would think of sagebrush, the pungent plant of the West. Actually, sagebrush is a member of the sunflower family while, like rosemary and thyme, true sage is in the mint family.
Mints have long been cherished as flavorings. The first century naturalist Pliny the Elder wrote, “The smell of mint stirs up the mind and appetite to a greedy desire for food.”
Appetite stimulation? Yep. What worked in ancient Rome still works at Thanksgiving. But why? It turns out that plants in the mint family have glands which exude volatile oils. When they evaporate into the air, these mint oils give off scents which attract insect pollinators to the plants. Mint oils—sage, rosemary and thyme—when added to food, give off an aroma which makes the food more palatable to us.
But, as it turns out, the original reason for adding sage and other herbs to rich foods was far more mundane. Since the Middle Ages, sage has been valued for its medicinal properties. According to early physicians, sage was especially helpful in “preventing flatulence.” When rich food was served, especially in close quarters, sage was added as a preventative measure. And it became a tradition.
Another traditional scent of the season is the aroma of mulled cider which will fill the Collins Learning Center when The Friends of Crossroads hold their “Deck the Halls Party” on Tuesday, December 2 at 5:30pm. The Friends (which means anyone who has or plans to volunteer at Crossroads) decorate the Collins Learning Center and share a light supper as they prepare for the season. All are welcome and participants are invited to bring a dish to share.
Crossroads is a donor-supported environmental center made up of three preserves. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan in Sturgeon Bay is open 10am–4pm weekdays. On Thanksgiving, the Center will be closed and it will re-open from 1–4pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday over the holiday weekend. Trails are open 24/7. All three Crossroads Preserves are closed to hunting.