The fragrance of clean water

Requeson Beach, Baja California Sur
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 oved 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 like perfume for us.

People are very sensitive to odors... But it's mostly at a subliminal level, so it’s hard to describe the smell of the Sea of Cortez.

For a while I toyed with wine tasting.  I got impatient with the fight for prestige among vineyards, and with the thin words used to describe wines—a fruity this and that with a dash of coffee and an overtone of something else.

As with wines, we're at a loss to describe the bouquet of the sea.  It’s complex and subtle, while changing from place to place.

At another place in Baja--Isla Danzante pictured below--I also savored the sea at night.  Yes, it had that salty smell of oceans—but I don’t think salt itself has an aroma.  “Salty” is the generic smell we’ve learned to associate with the ocean beach. 

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.

As I paddled along Danzante, I wasn't far from shore vegetation.  I’m sure that contributed—for I could smell blossoms and woody smells.

But at Danzante, and now at Playa Requeson, there’s definitely something that’s pure ocean.  A bit of seaweed--but also something herbal.  It’s complex... and it smells good.

On land, it's easier to name aromas, because you can see what's going on.  We know the smell of new-mown hay.  You might say the Sea of Cortez smells something like new-mown hay, but it’s different.  Like the hay, it’s a distinctive, environmental, natural smell.  “Salty” simply doesn’t do it justice.

If a person’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.  All distilled into this complex aroma, drifting in on the breeze to the shore of Playa Requeson.

I was breathing in that fragrance, the night I arrived at Requeson--as the waves lapped, and the fish skipped across the darkened surface that reflected both stars, and the lights of occasional passing trucks.

This delicate aroma—suggestive like music—is something you won't find at a water park.  I hope someday my grandchildren will know the fragrance of clean water, under the stars.

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More Baja adventures from my recent trip

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