It’s a warm August evening on Mt. Tamalpais, and Hall Newbegin is clipping small flowers from an Oak branch. He’s been coming to these hot, southern slopes of Mt. Tam for weeks now, climbing through the chaparral to reach his favorite Oaks, where he uses a hand pruner to trim off a few handfuls of fragrant white blooms.
In his 15 years as a wilderness perfumer, Hall has tried a lot of crazy things. But his current mission may be the strangest yet. With those hand pruners, working in his spare time, he’s trying to stop the seasons and keep summer on the mountain forever.
Hall checks his phone and sees it’s getting late.
He’s going to have to hurry.
“Mt. Tam is my favorite place on earth,” says Hall, who lives on the mountain. “One of the things I’d noticed is that, at the very end of summer, the mountain opens up with this gorgeous, sweet, earthy, fertile smell.”
“It colors the air everywhere. I can smell it where I live. I can smell it in town. I can smell it when I’m deep in the Redwoods. It washes over the mountain like a wave.”
Hall has explored nearly every inch of the mountain. But when he tried to locate the plants responsible for that summery scent, he came up empty.
“I can smell it where I live. I can smell it in town. I can smell it when I’m deep in the Redwoods.”
“It was killing me,” he says. “And the smell doesn’t come on slowly. It just slams into the mountain, always in the hottest days of summer. The dog days. It’s amazing. And then it’s gone.”
Finally, Hall found his way to those Oaks. The color of their blooms tipped him off.
“In nature, when flowers are white, they often have interesting scents. They’re attracting their pollinators at night time, so they’re not using colors as much as smell. As a wilderness perfumer, you pay attention to white flowers.” So this August, when the fragrance first appeared on the wind, Hall was ready. The Juniper Ridge crew helped out, but he mostly worked alone, harvesting for an hour before or after work. “The bees are just buzzing everywhere all around you. And the smell out there reminds me so much of the fullness of late summer. When you’re a kid, you think summer lasts forever. When I smell the Oak flowers, that’s the feeling I get. It’s intoxicating.” Hall turned over all the blossoms he collected to Tom, Juniper Ridge’s head of R&D, who carefully extracted their fragrance. When he was done, they had 53 bottles of a Field Lab fragrance called Summer Oakflower Cabin Mist.
“It’s light,” says Hall. “It’s so light. Just like the smell in the evening on the mountain. It doesn’t stick to anything like a perfume. It doesn’t even fill the room like a room spray. It just nudges your head in the direction of that infinite beauty of the deepest part of summer.” Which is how Hall actually did manage to keep summer around forever. Or at least as long as his bottle of Summer Oakflower holds out. “In the depths of winter,” he says, “when it’s raining out and it gets dark at 4:30 in the afternoon, I’m going to pull that bottle out and give it a spritz. And summer will come back again.”