3 years ago, when I was a junior in high school, I drove up to Birmingham to visit Samford for the first time.
I distinctly remember being taken aback how beautiful everything was: the full trees, the old brick buildings, the green grass (which I have since learned is 100% spray painted). Oddly enough, though, one takeaway that has always stuck with me is this: "I love the way it smells here."
Coming from Florida, I had no idea how beautiful the South smells in the spring. It's those pine trees, y'all. They burst to life with such vibrancy, dulling everything around them, infusing the air with their sweet perfume. The air constantly smells like mowed grass, pine needles, and a subtle hint of honeysuckle. If a scent could be picturesque, this would be that scent.
We don't get pine trees in Florida--all we got is palm trees which, to my knowledge, are scent-free year-round. And I was tired of those palm trees, and everything else about Florida, and that's when I decided it was time for me to move somewhere that made my heart sing when I got a whiff of the scent of spring. Simple as that.
I was 17 and I left Birmingham with an ache in my heart. An ache that said, "This is where you need to be." I'd spent such little time in Birmingham, but it already felt like a piece of me belonged to it.
Here I am, 3 years later, and I can confidently say that Birmingham has won me over. There's something beautiful and magical about growing into independence in a city all your own--a city removed from your family, a city that you have practically no ties to. It forced me to forge my own path, in a sense--to really figure out what it was the Lord had for me here, all on my own.
I had entirely forgotten about that pine tree smell until one idyllic spring evening last year. I was babysitting, sitting on the back porch of a random family's house, when a gust of wind blew and the wind chimes let out a delicate tune, and in waltzed that iconic scent of spring. It was the first time I'd gotten a whiff of it since my first day in Birmingham.
I once read this article once that said that smell is the strongest of your 5 senses. It is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. Because of this, smell acts as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.
I sat there overlooking the green grass, watching the little boys play with their trucks on the patio, and just reminisced on the growth that had occurred since that spring day of 2016.
2 years ago, I signed my name on a dotted line to live in a 5 by 11 foot box with a stranger in a building crammed with 400 other stranger girls. This place quickly became just as dear to me as my own home, a building packed wall-to-wall with memories from my very first year of real independence. And the stranger (and the 400 other strangers) who lived in that box with me quickly became my best friend(s).
2 years ago, I aimlessly drove around the streets of Birmingham with new friends as we searched for a church community to call home. Today, I sat in the pews of my church where I have recently become a member and teared up at the thought of leaving for four months. That church--but more importantly, the people who embody it--are a place of peace for me. A direct sign of God's provision in the midst of a year full of searching.
3 years ago, I smelled that Alabama pine and thought about how nice it would be to live in a place where I could smell the pine trees in the spring. And that's what's gotten me through since. Sure, there have been winters, and that's when you can't smell--or even see--the beautiful pine trees at all. In fact, the trees are completely bare, and to be honest, everything looks bleak and sad and empty. But even in those seasons, I have to remember to thank God for putting me in a place where I know the pine trees are coming, even when they seem so far away.
I spent a lot of high school praying for the opportunity to attend this college, and if I didn't cherish even my worst day here, I would be remiss. Because, yes, there are those flourishing spring seasons where everything is blooming and budding with life and promise and I'm slack-jawed at my good fortune. But there are also those bare-treed seasons, the seasons where I'm always cold even though I'm wearing a coat, and I've lost all feeling in my fingers and I begin to wonder what it was that made me move 10 hours up north again? But even in those days, I cherish the cold, because it is what makes way for the spring.
Then you have those few weeks where the seasons are transitioning, when the trees are kinda budding and the air is kinda warming and the jackets are kinda gone but you still have to stuff one in your backpack just in case you get a cold snap.
It rains some days. Some days, it's perfectly bright and sunny.
And to be honest, a lot of sophomore year has felt like that. A lot of looking around and thanking God even for those weird seasons. Some days, it rains and it's cold, but the next it clears up and I just stand around kind of like, "Hmm. Okay."
And I'm learning. It's hard, but I'm learning how to see God even in the weird seasons.
Tomorrow, I have to leave this city and its pine trees for 4 months. Granted, I'm leaving to go to a place I love almost as much, a place where I feel so at peace (camp, duh). But there's something about Birmingham. To me, Birmingham is a direct representation of God's provision in my adult life--how He can provide comfort in a place I've never known and make a sterile dorm room feel like home.
There are some things I'll always hear, see, taste, or smell that will remind me of Birmingham. Like, The Head and the Heart. Their entire Signs of Light album. The taste of iced coffee. Hills. Green everywhere, even in the winter. Jim N' Nicks barbecue. Caveat's porch. The smell of Love Beauty Planet hand soap. Giant Christmas trees. The sound of bare feet padding up tile staircases. The word "magic." And yes, the smell and sight of pine trees. So many little things, gems I carry close to my heart. Tiny little memories and snapshots that make this place feel like home--at least for now.
Never change, Birmingham. Stay your cute little quirky, quaint self and I'll be back so soon.