Perfume Review: Captain Blankenship’s vessels of imagination

A perfumer's head is always close to the ground.

Jana Blankenship, following her nose towards inspiration.

PerfumeThe more I get into natural perfuming the more I come to understand that when I connect with a scent I am connecting with an artist. And just as I have had to read everything Ann Patchett has ever written, or have followed Vermeer across geographies into the golden light of timeless domesticity, I was driven to smell the other fragrances created by perfumer Jana Blankenship to experience how a real scent artist experiences the world. To my great delight, all of the scents in Captain Blankenship scent sample package deliver a revelatory experience.

Based in the Hudson River Valley, Captain Blankenship is a vessel of imagination for artisan perfumer Jana Blankenship, who has been making a whole line of organic beauty products with the alluring tagline: Wild with nature.

If Portland’s OLO’s Dafne was my gateway scent into natural perfuming, Captain Blankenship’s Jaune was the one that tipped me over into obsession. I first came across it at one of those tiny shops on Portland’s East Burnside, Sword + Fern, which carries the loveliest tiny apothecary section of handmade self-care products. I was drawn immediately to the hand-drawn ship of its logo, which feels like a doodle from a daydream.


Jaune was a revelation for me — a rose-based scent that smelled fresh and light. Until Jaune, rose perfumes had always seemed plucked from a cake in Miss Havisham’s dining room. But then there was this — cascading roses in the prime of their beauty in a garden with lemons, sweet orange blossoms. And there is someone serving vanilla tea there, not in a frumpy floral teapot but in a glass pot, where you can see the leaves unfolding. When I wore Jaune I felt like I carried this scene with me, and as is changed on my wrist it felt like the sun moving across the sky.


Scent samples from Captian Blankenship come in tiny vials with a hand-made bag dyed with natural indigo.


You wouldn’t expect a wolf to smell so sweet, but that is the allure of Seawolf, Captain Blankenship’s Seawolf. It’s surprising meeting of earthy forest notes such as pine and fir with lighter florals like ylang ylang cut through with grassy palmarosa and vetiver make it feel very much of nature but not by nature. It has patchouli, myrrh and frankincense, lending it something of an exalting spiritual dimension, but the effect is very cathedral-of-the-forest, not a trip-to-the-altar. I adore this scent for its ability to transcend so many categories to create its own.

Wolf Moon

Wolf Moon is the darker component to Seawolf’s light run through the ancestral forest. It meets you with the light floral of honey blossom which quickly develops into a warm foundation of smoked frankincense, and iris root. It’s the woods that might await you if you stepped off the path, over there where the moonlight is shining through. It gets silkier as it develops. I would want to smell this one on someone but not on myself.


This scent meets you in a hothouse of citrus made more interesting with blooming florals of jasmine, orange blossom and neroli. It feels like an imagined place, as if it were possible to build a solarium on top of the sea and fill it through with uplifting botanicals, and every now and again this floating greenhouse would tip towards the reeds on the shore. I could see myself sequestering myself from the world and floating around with this one.

Do you have a favorite indie perfumer that I have got to try? Please share in the comments!

In Praise of Nowstalgia: The Sadness in Happiness

A photo to show this actually happened.

A photo to show this actually happened.

airstreamTwo weeks ago, at a tiny, footprint-shaped lake near Mt. Bachelor, we found ourselves picnicking with over 100,000 Cascade frogs. As we stepped near the edge of the water, the pond rolled in a black wave of flapping polliwogs disturbed by our footfall.

You can never feel truly alone in the wilderness.

And then there they were, framed by the deep lines of woods and lake – after three years, eight days, 10 hours and 43 minutes on family rancor (but who’s counting?) – my boys, helping each other. My 5-year-old was showing his brother how to hold a tiny, slippery frog in his hand so he could keep him cupped inside but not crush him. My younger son: listening patiently and following his older brother’s lead. The frogs jumped around their feet in primal flight mode.

My boys crouched down together and snatched two tiny frogs out of the grass. My older son dropped a half-inch long slimy frog into my younger son’s soft palm, and in the crisp sun of an Oregon mountain summer, the world stopped for me.

I got that feeling again. It’s a feeling I can’t help but notice more and more in these hazy, long afternoons of summertime: Nowstalgia.

Nowstalgia is what I call that split second when I can sense that a memory is being created, and instead of being happy for the calamitous beauty of this moment, I’m already nostalgic for how much I’m going to miss it years from now. It’s a truer version of the term bittersweet, an idea far better for capturing how quickly a life passes and how intimately we feel the passing.

Nowstalgia. It is the tinge of melancholy that seems to come along with every moment of joy for me. It’s the part of me that can’t seem to let me get completely swept away in what is happening before my eyes. It’s the sadness in happiness — the knowledge that even though I can tell myself to lock a moment into my long-term memory, the past has shown that I just don’t work like that.

Fact: My memory is the worst kind of paper rubbing of what happened. Even with a photograph I tend to remember only how I felt about things. Every time I tell myself to commit a moment to memory – remember this moment! – it is gone within a week.

If I were chasing happiness I know I could just sit back and relax. Nearly every day there is a new study or book or article confirming that happiness is found in the moment, in accessing the NOW (thank you, Eckhart Tolle), or in reaching the flow state of activity that allows time to slip away and perfect convergence with the presence.

Life is painful enough, you say. You don’t have to go and live  your happy moments as pain, too!

But when you’re someone who feels deeply, it becomes difficult not to see even the brightest moments as some blips within a grander context. The children will grow up, they’ll be fighting again in a minute and we’re all going to die someday.

My husband says I’ve been waxing nowstalgic since he met me in 2001, but I haven’t yet determined how long I’ve been feeling nowstalgia’s tug. I don’t know if it’s something that deepens when you have children, or have read too many books, whether it’s just something you’re born with that gets more prominent with age or whether it’s just a writer thing. But I do know that by identifying the feeling with this very silly word I’ve been able to accept it as something odd and beautiful when it appears.

The Cascade frog is endangered — you can remove them from the lake to the tune of a $1,250 fine. With Nowstalgia, I run the risk of endangering every moment of joy. I’m not going to let it take nowstalgia ruin my days. I’m going to let it roll through me like a tiny wave and then, gosh darn it, I’m going to go catch some frogs.


Do you have any favorite new words to describe a feeling? 

Follow Emily on Twitter @emilygrosvenor!