When I was in grade school, I was a Girl Scout. In the summer, my troop usually went to camp in the Jemez mountains of New Mexico. The one thing I really remember about this camp is the Mystery Tree. Every year the leaders took us on a hike to this tree. It was an old Ponderosa pine, which (if I remember correctly) had been split at one time by lightning and had a forked trunk. It was huge, at least to my 8-to-12-year-old self. We sat in a big circle around the tree, and one of the leaders would tell us “The Story of the Mystery Tree.”
The tree was very old, and had a very adventurous life. It had wanted to see the world so it had traveled to many many places (I forgot how they said a tree would pick up its roots and travel, but that’s beside the point!) In its travels, the tree had wanted to keep something by which to remember each place, so at each place it collected a scent. The troop leader told us that after the tree had seen every country in the world, it had returned to rest in New Mexico and share its adventures with us. If we walked up to the tree and sniffed the bark in different places, we could experience the scents that it collected…one place might smell like pineapple from Hawaii, or exotic spices from India, or tea from China, or olives from Greece, pizza from Italy, or lavender from France… Yes, it was very stereotypical, the things they told us, but we’re talking 1970s here, when things weren’t quite so “PC.” Anyway, after we heard the story we were allowed to go investigate the tree. I laugh now at the image of a dozen little girls swarming this poor tree and hugging it and sniffing its bark. I wonder now how these women slept at night after having conducted psychological experiments like this on unsuspecting young girls! Yes, the power of suggestion is very strong! We truly imagined that we could smell all these things even though in reality, it was just a big ponderosa which smelled delicious like all ponderosas do, a little bit like vanilla, and a little bit like cookies, which is perfect for a bunch of Girl Scouts, don’t you think?