Thursday, February 9, 2012


I have a love affair with Creosotes. Which might not make any sense if you’ve never heard of them before. Or if you’ve never smelled one. A scrubby, undisciplined desert bush, they’re usually dehydrated and not very pretty to look at.

But in the spring, after a nice steady rain, the desert finally greens up for a minute. And the uncoordinated, gangly branches of the creosote smile all over with little yellow blossoms that welcome the bees and remind me of my grandparents’ home in the desert. Mmmm . . . I take so many deep breaths on rainy days here, I nearly hyperventilate. All in an effort to smell the creosote.

Creosote is the aroma of Arizona. You can break off its tiny, waxy leaves, roll them in your fingers, close your eyes and swear that a misguided rainstorm just passed through. Even in the concrete-encroached city, the damp air after a rain shower will be heavy with the fragrance of creosote.

I read that some people don’t like the scent, but that's okay. I’m not fond of Chanel No. 5 myself. Perfume is in the nose of the inhaler. And to me, rainy creosote is the perfume of Arizona. You won’t smell it anywhere else. So now that I live in a rural farming/ranching/desert locale, I want my very own creosote in my very own yard.

But this is where Creosotes bug me—they refuse to be transplanted. They grow with abandon all over our Sonoran Desert without asking permission from anyone, but just try to dig one up and move it, and it’ll show you who’s boss. It’ll up and die on you just on principle. I love ‘em, but I hate that.

I just want one to live in my yard. I live in the desert. Okay, it’s a house in a development in the desert. But I have rotten desert dirt just like everywhere else in Arizona. Why won’t a creosote come live in my yard and let me smell it? Are they insecure? Do they hate to be smelled? Or do they hate living alone? If they need to be with their own kind, I could transplant a few more. We could have a whole creosote community here—I don’t mind.

I was convinced that if it would give me a chance, I could persuade a creosote to be happy at my place. So a friend gave me a young one from among all the hundreds growing wild behind his house. He put it in a can with its very own original dirt, and told me where and how to plant it. Then he told me it would probably die. He’s a botanist. I thought he was a pessimist. Turns out he's a realist. I think it was dead by sundown.

I just can’t figure it out. I heard desert plants thrive on neglect. And I’m a genius at neglect! I promise to stay true to myself and never water them. It seems to me creosotes and I are a perfect fit. We’re both Arizona natives. We’re both mavericks by nature. We both like to smell nice. It doesn’t want me to water it. I don’t want to water it. And for unexplained and illogical reasons, we both like the desert. I think we’re a match made in heaven.

Apparently I’m the only one who thinks that.

I get it. There’s no reasonable explanation for it. You just can’t transplant a creosote. It has its principles, after all. I guess I have mine, too. And I don’t want to move to another location just so I can have a creosote in my yard. Creosote habitats are also inhabited by snakes. And scorpions. And other critters with bad attitudes. I’m allergic to bad attitudes.

So, this is how it ends. A stand-off. Unrequited love. Nasal nostalgia.

It’s too bad, Creosote. We could have made beautiful music together, you and I.

But don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you.

After all. I still like the way you smell.


  1. Sometimes unrequited love is the best kind of love. And there's always Rob.

  2. And he's been transplanted here for 26 years. My Florida boy. Talk about a drastic change in location. Creosotes could learn a few things. ;)

  3. I love that smell too. It reminds me of when i went horseback riding when i was a kid out by the papago buttes. there's just gotta be a way to get one in your yard...i'm on a mission:)

    1. I love it! Thanks for getting onboard! Ward Brady told me he thinks the root system is so wide and shallow in one creosote that it might kill off everything else. But I could just plant one in my front yard and let it run . . .