The buds of a balsam poplar tree are coated in sticky, aromatic resin that contains medicine for both the trees and us.

We were supposed to be focused on birds as the group walked along the gravel road north of Grand View, but in the damp air I smelled something. Thick, sweet, and spicy, the scent hung in this one spot where tall trees gathered instead of the scrubby alder brush. I inhaled deeply, filling my lungs with an aroma that reminded me of lovingly cooked food, or carefully chosen perfume, or new life. I couldn’t quite place it.

Looking around the small patch of forest, I noticed olive-green bark near the top and gray-brown furrows at the bottom. Aspen, I thought. But wait. On a hunch, I jumped a wet spot in the ditch to get a better look at some lithe young twigs sprouting out of an injury in the base of one of the trees. The buds were almost an inch long and encased in shiny brown scales just beginning to expand. I pinched one, and the aroma intensified. Another birder walking near me looked curious, so I broke off the bud and handed it to her. “Hmmm…Oh!” she exclaimed as she caught the scent, too.

Emily Stone is a naturalist and educator at the Cable Natural History Museum. The museum is now open with its Growing Up WILD exhibit. Follow it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and

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